Telco talks spring leak

PM Prodi divulges potentially market-sensitive info

As corporate leaks go, the Italians are in a class by themselves.

Telecom Italia chairman Marco Tronchetti Provera got the surprise of his career last week when sensitive details about a series of ongoing negotiations with News Corp., Time Warner and General Electric landed in the press.

The source of the leak? Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi.

The PM, in a statement to reporters, divulged potentially market-sensitive info about two closed-door meetings he held with Tronchetti Provera, who is trying to radically restructure the now-privatized Telecom Italia with minimal government interference.

Prodi leaked details — including an assessment that News Corp. was keen to become a Telecom Italia minority partner because it was Rupert Murdoch‘s “only” chance at reaching critical mass in the Italian market — to undercut Tronchetti Provera’s plans to spin off TI’s prized mobile network, Telecom Italia Mobile (TIM), a move that risks putting the telco’s most profitable unit entirely in foreign hands.

The debt-ridden Telecom Italia surprised many Sept. 11 by announcing it would break up the company into three units: a landline phone voice and Internet company, which will remain the core business; a telecom network company, to be spun off for regulatory purposes; and TIM, the cash-generating unit that could now be vulnerable to outside takeover.

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