MPS holds shareholder meeting on 4% ownership rule

Agenda also to deal with board member probed for insider trading

MPS holds shareholder meeting on 4% ownership rule

Siena, July 18 - Troubled Italian bank Monte dei Paschi di Siena (MPS) held an extraordinary shareholders' meeting on Thursday on whether to abolish its 4% ceiling on voting rights for stakeholders other than the Fondazione Monte dei Paschi di Siena (MPS Foundation). Also on the agenda is the status of board member Michele Briamonte, who was given a two-month suspension by a judge after Briamonte was placed under investigation for insider trading. The world's oldest working bank and Italy's third largest, MPS is majority-owned and controlled by the non-profit, city-controlled MPS Foundation, which is deeply associated with the affairs of Siena and has drawn criticism as an instrument of left-wing politicians and city government. The MPS Foundation been particularly under pressure since the bank became embroiled in scandal amid massive losses and political furore over the previous Italian government's 3.9-billion-euro bailout plan to cover its capital needs, which also threatens the bank with state-control should it default. On Thursday, MPS Foundation Chairman Gabriello Mancini told the assembly that "removing the 4% statutory limitation on stock ownership" was "inevitable and could not be put off" given the vigilance and wishes of the economy ministry. Mancini also urged the MPS Foundation to act as an active "protagonist" in the search for new investment partners to become shareholders of reference. Siena Mayor Bruno Valentini criticized timing the vote when the MPS Foundation "was so discredited as to risk being the doormat of others" in an interview with La Repubblica newspaper published Thursday. At the same time, Valentini said Siena "will not defend municipal corporatism" and will accept "market challenges for the local bank". Still, Valentini called for a "soft landing" for changes in the bank's governance. Investigations into the bank began early this year after it emerged that a previously undisclosed series of derivative and structured-finance deals produced losses of around 720 million euros for MPS. Senior officials from MPS are facing penalties totalling as much as five million euros from the Bank of Italy for alleged fraud and corruption. Giuseppe Mussari, the former chairman of MPS, and two other ex-MPS executives face trial on September 26 on obstruction of justice charges.

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