ArcelorMittal has offered to sell its stake or become a minority shareholder in an Italian steelworks after Rome moved to put the plant under state supervision, the chief executive said in a letter seen by AFP Saturday.
The letter was dated Thursday, the day Meloni’s hard right government announced it had taken the first step towards putting the plant under state supervision.
Talks with ArcelorMittal, which owns a 62-percent stake, had broken down over how to keep production going and secure thousands of jobs at the plant in the southern city of Taranto.
In the letter, initially reported by the ANSA news agency but then obtained by AFP, Mittal said he was keen to avoid “extreme unilateral actions”.
He says the government appears to want to end its joint venture with ArcelorMittal, the world’s largest steelmaker, in which state investment body Invitalia has a 38-percent stake.
To make a “clean break”, ArcelorMittal has “offered to sell our entire stake to Invitalia for a fraction of our cash investment”, the chief executive wrote, in English and Italian.
“Although Invitalia has refused, this offer remains on the table should the government wish to consider it.”
Alternatively, “we are prepared to remain as a minority strategic partner… as the Italian government decides on a permanent solution”, Mittal wrote.
– Debt problems –
Rome considers the steelworks a strategic asset, but it has long been plagued by financial problems and environmental concerns.
The operating company, named Acciaierie d’Italia, is no longer able to pay many of its suppliers or utility bills, and the plant is at risk of having its gas shut off.
Italian Enterprise Minister Adolfo Urso earlier told reporters that “we cannot lose any time”.
“We have activated the procedure that could lead to special administration in a few weeks,” he said.
“On the other hand, if ArcelorMittal makes proposals that are in line with what the government considers absolutely necessary, for the protection of the plant and the relaunch of production, the shareholders can obviously discuss it,” he said.
Special administration would involve appointing commissioners to manage the company and draw up a rescue plan, pending the arrival of a new investor.
In the meantime, the government said it stood ready to guarantee “current liquidity” at the plant with a bridge loan of 320 million euros (USD 347 million).
Mittal said that if it stayed, his company could contribute up to one-third of the state’s contribution towards purchase of assets in the joint venture, to avoid any concerns about state aid.
ArcelorMittal had responded to a call for tenders after the site was last put into extraordinary administration in 2015, taking over the Ilva group and its 10,700 employees — including 8,200 in Taranto — at the end of 2018.