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Telecom Italia investor Fossati seeks board overhaul after Telefonica deal

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 (Reuters) - Telecom Italia investor Marco Fossati, who has called for a new strategy and possibly new management to revive the debt-laden company, has demanded a shareholder meeting to discuss an overhaul of the group's board.

Fossati, whose family holding company Findim holds 5 percent of the Italian telecoms group, did not elaborate on his proposal in a statement released by Findim on Thursday calling for the meeting, which would need to be approved by the board before it could take place.

The businessman is seen as opposed to the possible sale of Telecom Italia's prized TIM Participacoes unit in Brazil to fix the Italian group's balance sheet, which is burdened by nearly 29 billion euros ($39 billion) in net debt. The sale is expected to be endorsed by Spain's Telefonica.

Telefonica is set to gain control of the Italian telecoms group after securing a deal in September that will allow it to gradually increase its stake in Telecom Italia's holding company, Telco, by buying out Italian co-investors Assicurazioni Generali, Intesa Sanpaolo and Mediobanca. Telco controls Telecom Italia through a stake of just 22.4 percent.

Fossati, who has been calling for a change in Telecom Italia's shareholder structure and has advocated a merger with another telecoms company, has argued that the Brazilian asset offers opportunities in a growth market.

In Thursday's statement, Findim said last month's Telefonica deal could affect the Italian group's strategy and management, especially in Brazil and in Argentina, where Telecom Italia controls Telecom Argentina. The Italian group competes with Telefonica in both countries.

Telecom Italia's new Chief Executive Marco Patuano, formerly its chief operating officer, is due to present a new business plan at a board meeting on November 7 when the company releases its quarterly results.

He was appointed after the Telefonica deal to replace executive chairman Franco Bernabe, who resigned in a strategy clash with Telco shareholders.

Bernabe had opposed the deal with Telefonica, several sources said, but failed to gain support for a rights issue needed to underpin Telecom Italia's credit ratings and fund investments.

Fossati has said previously that he would support a capital increase at Telecom Italia to fund a credible business plan.

Bernabe was against asset sales and analysts say that the change at the top increases the likelihood that Telecom Italia will put TIM Participacoes up for sale to help cut debt and finance badly-needed domestic investments.

(Reporting by Danilo Masoni; Editing by Susan Fenton)

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