Italy's Letta presses Riva Acciai steel group to re-open plants


ROME (Reuters) - Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta on Monday criticised steelmaker Riva Acciai for suspending production at several sites and laying off workers, and said the government may try to put the plants under special administration.

Last week the company halted operations at eight plants in northern Italy and sent home 1,400 workers.

It said it was forced to take the steps due to a prosecutors' order earlier this year to seize 8.1 billion euros (£6.79 billion) of its assets as part of a probe into alleged environmental crimes at the Riva family's steel group ILVA in southern Italy.

"It's crazy, Riva can't use the workers as a kind of retaliation against the prosecutors," Letta said in an interview on state television.

Italy is grappling with rising unemployment during its longest post-war recession.

Letta spoke as Industry Minister Flavio Zanonato was meeting ILVA President Bruno Ferrante, who was representing Riva in talks over the plant closures.

The government will "put all pressure on the company to re-open" the plants, and will consider whether it is legally possible for it to put the plants in question under special administration in order to resume production, Letta said.

Riva Acciai says the seizure order stemming from the ILVA proceedings had blocked its banking operations, making it impossible for it to run its northern plants, but Letta dismissed the argument.

"They can definitely maintain operations," he said.

Riva Acciai is part of Gruppo Riva Forni Elettrici, which has 20 plants worldwide. Riva Forni Elettrici produced around 7.8 million tonnes of steel in 2012, according to its website.

Union and industry groups have said they are worried about the impact of the seizure on jobs.

The ILVA steel plant, Europe's largest, has embarked on a two-year clean-up operation after prosecutors alleged that toxic emissions had caused abnormally high levels of cancer and respiratory illness in the region.

In June the Italian government appointed a special commissioner to run the troubled plant, which accounts for 40 percent of the country's overall steel output, and oversee cleanup operations.

(Reporting by Massimiliano Di Giorgio, writing by Gavin Jones; editing by David Evans)

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