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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 September 2005, 07:15 GMT 08:15 UK
ABN Amro 'wins Italy bank battle'
A branch of Italian bank Antonveneta
The takeover led to fierce criticism of Italian business practices
The long-running and scandal-hit battle for control of Italian bank Antonveneta looks set to end, with Dutch lender ABN Amro near to buying out its main rival.

ABN Amro had been up against local bank Banca Popolare Italiana (BPI), which owned 29.5% of lender Antonveneta.

BPI looked to have won the tussle, but its bid was frozen amid accusations of illegal share trades and collusion that reached as far as the Bank of Italy.

ABN Amro would become the first foreign bank to buy a major Italian lender.

BPI said it had agreed to sell its shares for 26.50 euros each, more than Antonveneta's closing price of 26.09 euros on Wednesday. The deal would value Antonveneta at close to 7.6bn euros (5.1bn; $ 9.3bn).

Following the purchase, ABN Amro will own almost 60% of Antonveneta.

"BPI has has announced their intention to sell, obviously we have the intention to buy from them," an ABN Amro spokeman said.

"Things are moving in the right direction but the agreement has yet to be signed."

Business soap opera

The Italian financial world has been gripped as the battle which surrounded Antonveneta unfolded over the summer.

Times are changing and even the Bank of Italy has to change
Domenico Siniscalo, Economy Minister

Foreign firms have been attracted to Italy's banking market by its wide profit margins and large number of lenders ripe for consolidation.

However, they have found it difficult to break into the market and Italy has been accused of protectionism.

This view was given some credence when Antonio Fazio, the powerful governor of the Bank of Italy, was recorded talking to the chief executive of BPI about the bidding for Antonveneta.

Mr Fazio has denied any wrongdoing and is resisting calls for his resignation.

By the time the recordings surfaced, questions already had been raised over how BPI managed to build up its stake in Antonveneta and financial watchdog Consob decided it should suspend the bid pending an investigation.

ABN Amro quietly reiterated its interest in taking control of Antonveneta, and the Dutch lender's patience seems to have paid off. The deal is expected to be finalised on 21 September.


SEE ALSO:
Bank of Italy 'must be changed'
14 Sep 05 |  Business
Italy watchdog approves BNL bid
14 Sep 05 |  Business
Italy bank chief 'will not quit'
05 Sep 05 |  Business
Italy bid bank considers options
05 Aug 05 |  Business
Italy's central banker under fire
28 Jul 05 |  Business
ABN Amro unveils Italian bank bid
30 Mar 05 |  Business


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