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Italy’s government not involved in UniCredit’s ECB lawsuit, source says

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By Angelo Amante

ROME (Reuters) – Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s government is not involved in any way in a legal challenge by UniCredit of the terms set by the European Central Bank (ECB) for it to cut its presence in Russia, a senior government source said.

Euro zone banks still having business in Russia more than two years after Moscow invaded Ukraine have come under growing pressure in recent weeks from the bloc’s supervisors, as well as U.S. authorities, over their ties to the country.

The euro zone banking sector’s Chief Supervisor Claudia Buch said in May the ECB had told banks with significant exposure to Russia to speed up their de-risking efforts by setting a clear roadmap for downsizing and exiting the Russian market.

In the same month, Bank of Italy Governor and ECB policymaker Fabio Panetta urged Italian banks “to get out” because of reputational risks.

UniCredit, which owns Russia’s 15th largest bank by assets, said last week it was contesting the ECB’s decision in the European Court of Justice, seeking its suspension pending a judgment.

Decisions by the court take on average around 20 months, while the ruling on the suspension requests should take a few weeks.

The government source, who asked not to be named because they were not authorised to speak to the media, told Reuters the bank was free to do what it thought best to protect its interests but the government plays no part in the matter.

The person added that UniCredit had informed the government of its plans.

UniCredit declined to comment.

Last week the lender said it had doubts over whether the terms set by the ECB to cut its Russian exposure were consistent with Russian laws and Western sanctions against Russia.

The bank said it needed the court to provide clarity on the matter before complying with the ECB demands because there was a risk of “serious unintended consequences” affecting its Russian unit and the group as a whole.

Forza Italia leader and Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani said last week he shared need for clarity, adding hasty decisions on such matters only risked damaging Italian and European companies.

In the past months, Tajani chaired meetings focused on the Italian companies operating in Russia which involved representatives of business with interests there.

With 56 branches at the end of last year and a full-time staff of about 3,150 people, AO UniCredit is Russia’s 15th largest lender by assets, based on a ranking from April 2024 compiled by Interfax.

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