BT cleared of rigging Italian 3G auction

Now it can sell its £250m stake in Blu

BT has been cleared of fixing the Italian auction for 3G licences and now hopes to sell off its 21 per cent stake in Italian mobile company Blu - worth £250 million.

The British telecoms giant was put under review by the Italian authorities as soon as Blu pulled out the auction, effectively ending it since it left just five bidders for the five licences. The Italian government was livid as it had expected to make £20.8 billion from the auction. It got just £7.1 billion.

The legal review of Blu's behaviour was little more than an attempt to retain its £1.2 billion deposit. Unswayed, an Italian court ruled in Blu's favour yesterday. "We have not found any irregularities from the point of view of competition," it judged.

At the time Blu pulled out the auction (on the third day of bidding), BT actually said it was willing to bid higher but was overruled by Benetton-owned company Autostrade which owns 32 per cent to BT's 21 per cent.

Now the legal review is out the way, BT should be able to sell its share - worth £250 million. It is believed Autostrade also wants out and Spain's Telefonica is the most likely buyer.

The sale is one of the final European mobile-company stake sell-offs and will mark the end of Sir Iain Vallance and Sir Peter Bonfield's legacy of idiocy. Both realised they had entered the European mobile market too late and proceeded to pay over the odds for minority stakes in mobile companies.

This had the effect of building a massive £30 billion debt but with little or no influence in the market. Stupid? Yes, and it has seen FD Robert Brace fired, chairman Vallance shifted and CEO Bonfield removed of most of his power. New chairman Sir Christopher Bland is continuing to correct the errors made. ®

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