By Foo Yun Chee
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Europe's antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager has asked Italy if Alitalia pays interest on a 900-million-euro ($1 billion) loan granted to the carrier last year to keep it afloat while it looks for a buyer.
Loss-making Alitalia was put under special administration last year and since then Rome has been on the hunt for a buyer. The new populist government wants to keep Alitalia in public hands.
The European Commission opened an investigation into the case in April to check whether the loan complies with the bloc's state aid rules against giving companies an unfair advantage.
Responding to a query from a lawmaker at the European Parliament, Vestager said she was seeking more information on the case.
"The Italian authorities have been asked to provide clarifications about several issues, including whether interest has been paid to the state on the 900 million euro loan," she said in a written reply.
"Where the state is a creditor and it waives or fails to claim the interest owed to it on a loan, this could involve state aid in so far as that behaviour is not that of a diligent market economy creditor," Vestager said.
The Italian Treasury was not available for comment while Alitalia declined to comment. Alitalia would have to repay the loan if this is found to be illegal state aid.
($1 = 0.8709 euros)
(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; additional reporting by Giuseppe Fonte and Giulia Segreti in Rome; editing by Alexandra Hudson)