Exclusive-Italy tribunal rules for Blackstone in RCS building dispute

·2 min read
FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: The ticker and trading information for Blackstone Group is displayed at the post where it is traded on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange

By Claudia Cristoferi and Alfredo Faieta

MILAN (Reuters) -A Milan arbitral tribunal ruled in favour of Blackstone Group in a disputed sale of the headquarters of RCS, rejecting all claims advanced by the Italian publisher, a court document seen by Reuters showed, confirming what sources had said earlier on Friday.

RCS Mediagroup, which publishes the influential daily Corriere della Sera, launched arbitration proceedings in late 2018 to nullify the 2013 sale of its historic headquarters in central Milan to Blackstone, saying the U.S. investment firm had paid too low a price at a time when RCS faced financial difficulties.

Blackstone, which paid 120 million euros ($145 million) for the offices, had in turn accused RCS of falsely claiming it still owns the building and of improperly blocking its sale to Germany's Allianz.

The sale of the property "was nothing more than a commercial negotiation" in which the buyer "legitimately" tried to achieve the "most advantageous terms of sale" without evidence of "any undue pressure on the other party," the arbitration award said.

"The panel of judges fully recognised the validity of the contract and the fairness of Blackstone's behaviour during all the sale process," a source close to the U.S. fund said.

RCS said in a statement it disagreed with the decision and that it would consider any possible legal action against it.

Friday's final decision by the tribunal follows a partial ruling published in May last year that the sale was valid.

The ruling had requested two expert surveys on RCS's financial situation in 2013 and on the property's market value at the time, to assess whether there had been any damages for RCS and to what degree.

The U.S. investment firm filed two lawsuits in New York which were put on hold pending the outcome of the arbitration in Italy.

It is seeking up to $600 million in damages from RCS and from its chairman and main shareholder Urbano Cairo, who took control of the company in 2016, a source close to the fund said at the time.

RCS noted on Friday that there was no finding of impropriety or bad faith against the Italian company, which "on the contrary acted to duly protect the company's assets".

RCS's financial report, published on the company's website, shows it has not set aside risk provisions for the legal dispute.

(Reporting by Claudia Cristoferi and Alfredo Faieta in MilanEditing by Giulia Segreti and Matthew Lewis)