One of Italy's most senior finance industry executives defended Libya's record as a shareholder on Wednesday after an outcry over the country's investment in UniCredit SpA.
Cesare Geronzi, chairman of Assicurazioni Generali SpA and a former chairman of the Capitalia banking group in which Libya held a stake, told Reuters on Wednesday his experience had been overwhelmingly positive.
"In Capitalia, they never interfered in governance," he told reporters at a conference in the resort town of Rimini. "They have been the best shareholders I have ever had."
The comments came after Libya's sovereign wealth fund took a 2.075 percent stake in UniCredit SpA last month, raising Libya's total interest in the bank to 6.7 percent.
Politicians from the federalist Northern League party have expressed concern over the investment, saying it should be investigated by market regulator Consob.
Meanwhile, Mediobanca board member Tarak Ben Ammar told Bloomberg News on Thursday Libya has no intention to take over UniCredit, Italy's biggest bank, and its sovereign wealth fund shouldn't be treated differently from the lender's other investors.
The Central Bank of Libya owns 4.6 percent of the Milan-based lender and the Libyan Investment Authority holds 2.1 percent, according to an Aug. 4 statement from market regulator Consob. Mediobanca is UniCredit's largest single shareholder, with about 6.8 percent.
The Northern League political party wants Consob to investigate whether Libya's central bank and the sovereign fund should be considered a single entity, in which case Libyan voting rights could be frozen.
"I understand the Northern League's fears, but I don't understand why non-Arab money would be unsuspicious and Arab money is suspicious," Mr. Ben Ammar told the news agency. "I'm not at all worried that the Libyans will ever take control, or would want to take control of any institution."
Ben Ammar, a French-Tunisian financier who is also a board member at Telecom Italia SpA, said Arab sovereign wealth funds should be viewed as long-term investors. "These sovereign funds make investments for 50 years," he said. "They're the investments for when one day there's no more oil."