Italian Block of Autostrade Deal Upheld

An Italian administrative court has ruled in favor of a government decision to block Autostrade deal with Spanish infrastructure company Abertis Infraestructuras, Autostrade said Thursday.

Rome rejected the deal in August because it would give Spain's largest construction company, Actividades de Construccion y Servicios, a 12.5% stake in the combined companies.

Italian authorities argued such a stake violates an Italian law that bans construction companies from owning roads. The law is designed to avoid conflict of interest, since highway operators such as Abertis and Autostrade regularly tender contracts to building companies.

Autostrade announced in October that it had appealed the government's decision to the Regional Administrative Court of Lazio. The tribunal rejected the appeal Wednesday, the company said.

Autostrade had no immediate comment. The company was trading at 22.80 euros ($30.26), down 2.19% on the Milan stock exchange, shortly after it opened.

The deal worth nearly 12 billion euros ($15 billion) between Abertis and Autostrade would form the world's largest highway company operating in 16 countries with a road network of some 4,170 miles.

The European Commission warned Italy last month that its law to restrict the ownership of Italian highways could be violating an EU right allowing any business to invest in the 25-nation bloc, breaking internal market rules.