ENI CEO plays down prospect of quick share buyback


By Giancarlo Navach

MILAN, Dec 6 (Reuters) - Italian oil major ENI maytake well over a year to buy back up to 10 percent of its sharecapital, part of a complex operation to maintain the state'scontrolling stake in the company, its chief executive suggestedon Friday.

Prime Minister Enrico Letta said last month that Italy wouldsell 3 percent of ENI in 2014 to help rein in the country'smassive public debt, the fourth-largest in the world.

The Treasury has 4.34 percent of ENI and state lender CassaDepositi e Prestiti holds another 25.76 percent, bringing thestate's total holding to 30.1 percent.

If that stake grew, stock exchange rules would force thegovernment to make a takeover bid for the company, while asmaller holding would bring the government lower dividends.

ENI CEO Paolo Scaroni told Radio24 on Friday that ENI wasready to start the buyback but it would take a long time tocomplete.

"To give you a feeling, we took nine years to carry out aprevious one for 10 percent (of the capital). It's not like thisone will take nine months. It takes a long time," he said.

Two sources close to the matter have said the government'splan to sell part of its ENI stake entail the company firstbuying back around 10 percent of its capital and annulling theshares to increase the relative weight of the state's holding.

"(The government) will decide what it thinks fit on thematters that pertain to it," Scaroni said when asked about thegovernment's plans.

Scaroni also indicated he hoped to seek a fourth term whenhis current mandate expires next spring.

He said oil production from Kazakhstan's Kashagan field wasunlikely to be delayed to 2015 after output from the world'sbiggest crude discovery in half a century was halted due to agas leak.

Eni is part of the North Caspian Operating Company (NCOC),which is developing Kashagan and also includes Kazakh state oilfirm KazMunaiGas, U.S. group ExxonMobil, Royal DutchShell, France's Total and Japan's Inpex.

Asked if production might only be restarted in 2015 assuggested by some in the industry, Paolo Scaroni said: "No, Ireally don't think so. Within a few weeks we should understand(the problem). It shouldn't take that long."

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