Spanish highway firm to merge with Italian firm to make world's largest toll road operator! CEO of Italian company stripped of powers, to be fired for saying deal "not in Italy's best interest."

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Given the fact that Spanish-based Cintra is cherry picking all the key toll corridors in the U.S. (which also happen to be the key trade corridors read about it here and here) to manage and control, seems Spanish companies are making some serious overtures to own, manage and/or control the world’s infrastructure.

Autostrade Board OKs Merger With Abertis
The Associated Press
Tuesday, May 2, 2006; 5:51 PM

ROME — Italian highway company Autostrade SPA said its board on Tuesday night approved a merger with Spain’s Abertis, which analysts have described as an acquisition by the Spanish infrastructure company but the Italians insist is a “merger among equals.”

Autostrade’s chief executive, who opposed the deal, was stripped of his powers.

Autostrade also said in a statement that Abertis was expected to approve the plan at a board meeting scheduled for Wednesday.

Autostrade in the statement continued to describe the 12 billion euros ($14.7 billion) deal as a “merger,” but some terms suggest that Abertis is buying Autostrade. The new company would be called Abertis, be based in Barcelona and be run by the Abertis CEO.

Politicians and union leaders in Italy have expressed concern that Autostrade will come under Spanish control. Analysts and investors have welcomed the deal, which would create the world’s biggest toll roads operator, with a market value of 25 billion euros ($31.4 billion) and 20,000 employees in 16 countries.

The deal is “an industrial operation, an operation in a transparent market to create a European champion able to compete on the international level and to carry out further investments, beyond those planned, including in Italy,” the ANSA news agency quoted industrialist Gilberto Benetton as saying after Autostrade’s board met.

The company confirmed Italian news reports that the CEO, Vito Gamberale, had been stripped of his powers.

Autostrade Chairman Gian Maria-Gros-Pietro will take over Gamberale’s responsibilities, the Apcom news agency reported.

Earlier in the day, the company said its board of directors would consider a motion to replace Gamberale after he wrote a letter saying the planned acquisition was not in Italy’s national interest.

Two unidentified members of the board cited “just cause” for removing Gamberale after he reversed his support for the deal and said he would lobby against it at the board meeting which was expected to rubberstamp it, the company said.

Autostrade said that while Gamberale had voted in favor of the deal at an April 23 board meetinghe later wrote to the company’s chairman to express his concerns.

© 2006 The Associated Press