French billionaire Xavier Niel, founder of internet provider Iliad, has increased his holding in Telecom Italia to the equivalent of a 15.1 percent voting stake, according to a filing with Italian markets regulator Consob. Just a day after it emerged that Niel had an 11.2 percent holding in the Italian company, the latest Consob filing indicates that on 27 October the stake was increased to 15.1 percent via call option contracts and other long positions. Niel is now the second-largest shareholder in Telecom Italia behind French media conglomerate Vivendi, led by another French billionaire, Vincent Bollore, which earlier this week boosted its stake in Telecom Italia to just over 20 percent of the company’s ordinary shares.
Although a 25 percent holding requires a mandatory takeover offer under Italian market rules, Telecom Italia CEO Marco Patuano sought to play down press reports about the increasing French presence in the Italian operator. “It doesn’t strike me as financial speculation. I can’t say if the two parties are working together or as rivals but don’t think there’s a liaison,” he said, adding that “if anything, the fact that we have experienced telecoms and media investors looking at our shares with great interest means the strategy we are following is creating value.” However, the Italian markets regulator will launch an investigation into the latest developments, according to unnamed sources cited by Teleborsa.