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Regulator looks into Telecom Italia bond, Argentina stake sale

A Telecom Italia phone booth is pictured in front of St Peter's Basilica in Rome September 24, 2013. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi
A Telecom Italia phone booth is pictured in front of St Peter's Basilica in Rome September 24, 2013. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

MILAN/ROME (Reuters) - Telecom Italia said officials from market regulator Consob, along with Italy's financial police, were at its offices on Wednesday to gather details of its recent convertible bond issue and the sale of a stake in Telecom Argentina .

The 1.3 billion euro bond and the sale of its Argentinean asset are part Telecom Italia's new business plan, and have been criticized by some minority investors who have accused the board of only looking after the interests of main shareholders.

The inspection also related to company procedures on keeping privileged information confidential, the Italian phone group said in a statement.

Telecom Italia said it had always respected Italy's financial market rules, and guaranteed total cooperation with authorities.

A source close to Consob said the visits on Wednesday were made to Telecom Italia's headquarters in Milan and Rome.

Telecom Italia's strategy review, approved at a board meeting on November 7, comes after a deal in September that gives Spain's Telefonica an option gradually to take over its rival by buying out its three Italian partners in Telco.

Telco, whose Italian investors are Generali , Mediobanca and Intesa Sanpaolo , is a holding company that controls Telecom Italia with a 22.4 percent stake. Telco appoints the majority of Telecom Italia's board.

In a separate development, judicial sources told Reuters that a few weeks ago Rome prosecutors opened an investigation into the sale of Telco shares to Telefonica.

They said prosecutors were also focusing on information stemming from Consob's checks and that there were no allegations of wrongdoing at the moment.

Telefonica declined to comment.

On Monday, Telecom Italia mandated its management to finalize the sale of its stake in Telecom Argentina after the Italian group's chief executive Marco Patuano said he received a $1 billion offer. Telecom Italia is in talks to sell a controlling stake in Telecom Argenitna to U.S.-based Fintech.

ASATI, an association of Telecom Italia's small investors, criticized the transaction, saying it would damage minority shareholders to the benefit of core investor Telefonica, which also has a presence in the South American country.

ASATI has also criticized the bond saying it penalized minority investors, which will see their stakes diluted in three years' time when institutional investors who bought it will convert it into Telecom Italia shares.

ASATI, which represents less than 1 percent of the company's share capital, has asked that the Argentinean deal be discussed at the Italian company's December 20 shareholder meeting.

At the meeting, investors will be called to vote on a proposal from FINDIM, which holds 5 percent of the company, to revoke the current board of Telecom Italia. FINDIM, a holding company belonging to the family of Italian businessman Marco Fossati, has proposed its own business plan for Telecom Italia.

(Reporting by Paola Arosio, Antonella Cinelli and Danilo Masoni; editing by David Evans)

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