Crown Castle looking for refund

U.S. group wants money back as RAI deal nixed

MILAN — U.S. group Crown Castle has asked pubcaster RAI for its $380 million back after Italian Communications Minister Maurizio Gasparri scuttled the sale of a 49% stake in RAI’s transmission network RaiWay on Friday.

Tuesday’s demand means the deal, inked in April, is virtually dead. However, RAI’s board said it will launch an inquiry into Crown Castle’s behavior, claiming that execs, saying the company was ready to renege on the deal, contacted Gasparri a few days before his verdict.

RAI’s decision might delay the return of payment to Crown Castle, and give the pubcaster a slim chance of saving the deal, according to analysts.

Accusations raised

Gasparri’s decision has sparked a new row in Italy. The political opposition and a large part of the media industry see the verdict as a move to protect Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi television network Mediaset — RAI’s only competitor.

The deal would have guaranteed the pubcaster an industrial and financial ally ready to invest in the renewal of the broadcasting network when digital terrestrial transmission kicks in 2006.

The RAI board has ordered chairman Roberto Zaccaria to launch legal action.

Zaccaria “will evaluate, with the advice of qualified legal consultants if needed … all the possible initiatives to safeguard the company, the board, and the professional quality of the people involved in the negotiations,” RAI said Tuesday.

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