Berlusconi names Alitalia rival bid parties


Italian opposition leader Silvio Berlusconi has said Italian oil giant Eni was among the companies interested in forming a rival bid for Alitalia, an Italian newspaper reported on Thursday.


Berlusconi, a poll favourite ahead of the country's April election, also cited retailer Benetton and merchant bank Mediobanca, La Stampa said.


The media magnate last week raised the prospect of an Italian counterbid to Air France-KLM's offer to buy Alitalia.


"The Italian consortium exists. The names are diverse ...  From Ligresti to Benetton. Then of course there is Mediobanca. And there are many others, like Eni," Berlusconi was quoted as saying in La Stampa.


Eni was unable to provide an immediate comment, while Mediobanca could not be reached for comment.


Other major Italian newspapers cite Berlusconi as saying he has received interest from other parties for a rival offer, but the newspapers do not identify them.


Berlusconi had said he would veto the Air France-KLM takeover if he becomes prime minister. The bid by the French-Dutch carrier was approved by outgoing Prime Minister Romano Prodi's centre-left government this month.


Berlusconi had promised that a group of "important businessmen" seeking to launch a counter-bid would reveal themselves within days, but wanted three to four weeks to make a formal offer.


"I thought the talks in which the government is involved in would lead to a merger with Air France ... I thought a Franco-Italian pole would be created. But this is an acquisition – that's it – and I am not for it," Berlusconi said in La Stampa.


"How can we give our flag carrier to the French who are strong in the same sectors as us ... it's crazy.


"Alitalia is an important subject. The polls illustrate that," he added.


Alitalia's smaller domestic rival Air One, whose offer to buy the carrier was rejected by Italy's outgoing government, has said it is ready to launch a new offer, but needs three or four weeks to inspect the ailing carrier's books first.


British airport transfers company Terravision has said it would be interested in joining a group.


Political rivals have dismissed Berlusconi's talk of a rival bid as election rhetoric.


Air France-KLM's offer has been criticised by unions. The carrier appeared to have broken an initial stalemate with unions by offering on Tuesday to modify its plans for job cuts at Alitalia and continue talks with labour leaders beyond the March deadline.


Alitalia said on Wednesday it needed more time to decide whether to allow an extension in talks with unions on its takeover by Air France-KLM, just days away from a March 31 deadline. (Reuters)