• Billionaire says not acting `in concert' with another investor
  • Italy's market regulator Consob is reviewing his holding

French billionaire Xavier Niel, who holds securities equivalent to a 15.1 percent stake in Telecom Italia SpA, disclosed the holding is through financial instruments that don’t yet carry voting rights in the Italian phone company.

Niel’s options on about 10 percent of the Italian company’s share capital will be settled with cash or stock, and options on about 5 percent of the share capital provide for a cash settlement, according to a statement from Niel’s investment vehicle Wednesday. He won’t have votes or influence on voting until his options are converted into stock.

Xavier Niel
Xavier Niel
Photographer: Antoine Antoniol/Bloomberg

Niel said he is acting on his own behalf and not "in concert" with another investor. Italy’s market regulator Consob is reviewing whether Niel and French media company Vivendi SA may be acting together.

Together, Niel and Vivendi, whose chairman is fellow French billionaire Vincent Bollore, may have an effective stake of more than 30 percent in Telecom Italia. Until earlier this year, Italy’s largest phone company had been controlled by Spain’s Telefonica SA and a group of Italian financial investors. Their replacement by the two French shareholders comes as Telecom Italia Chief Executive Officer Marco Patuano seeks to revive the company’s local business and sell assets to reduce a debt load of almost 27 billion euros ($29.5 billion).

Niel said a batch of his options can be settled in June next year. His remaining investment instruments have maturity dates later in 2016 and 2017.

Telecom Italia shares fell 0.9 percent to 1.25 euros at 10 a.m. in Milan, giving the company a market value of about 23 billion euros.

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