By Francesca Landini
MILAN (Reuters) – Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini said on Friday an infrastructure or transportation group would be his preferred partner for troubled carrier Alitalia .
He added that he had reservations about a possible involvement of Lazio soccer club Chairman Claudio Lotito, who submitted an expression of interest for the airline this week.
Salvini’s comments put pressure on Industry Minister Luigi Di Maio, who is also the leader of the 5-Star Movement and has been handling the Alitalia crisis since the coalition government took office last year.
Di Maio has already had to postpone the deadline for the rescue of the carrier three times and the latest extension is due to expire on Saturday with every expectation it will have to be prolonged yet again as the search for a solution continues.
Italy’s state-owned railway group Ferrovie dello Stato is spearheading an effort to set up a consortium of investors to buy loss-making Alitalia, which is managed by administrators.
So far Ferrovie has secured the commitment of Delta Air Lines but it is struggling to find another partner who is willing to invest more than 300 million euros (£267.24 million) in Alitalia, which has a long history of financial woe.
Salvini, who is the head of coalition party League, said caution was needed in picking the right partners.
“We are talking about a company (Alitalia) with 11,000 employees, which has a potential U.S. partner (Delta) with dozens of billions in sales, that deals with infrastructure and airplanes,” Salvini told reporters in Milan.
“As far as I know, Lotito, at present, just lets lads play soccer,” he added.
One source with knowledge of the matter told Reuters that Ferrovie had recently had talks with infrastructure group Atlantia over Alitalia, but added that its involvement in any accord still lacked the necessary political green-light.
Di Maio and other 5-Star officials strongly criticised Atlantia over the deadly collapse of a motorway bridge managed by the group, which killed 43 people last August.
After the disaster the government said it would revoke Atlantia’s motorway concession, accusing the company of poor maintenance of its road network.
Atlantia has denied any wrongdoing and could join the Alitalia consortium as a way to mend its relationship with the government, sources had told Reuters. The company, which is controlled by the Benetton group, denied on Wednesday that it had reached a deal to join the rescue.
(Reporting by Francesca Piscioneri, Writing by Francesca Landini; Editing by Crispian Balmer)