A takeover of the financially troubled Rizzoli publishing company has been engineered successfully by a consortium of private and public businesses, giving new life to one of Italy's major press empires and, at the same time, appearing to show a realignment of top Italian capital.
On Oct. 17, a court-appointed administrator for Rizzoli, which publishes the prestigious Milan daily, Corriere della Sera, reported favorably to a Milan tribunal on Rizzoli's request to end a two-year period of special court administration.
The judicial controls were imposed in October 1982 when, following the collapse of the Banco Ambrosiano, which directly owned 40 percent of Rizzoli, the publishing firm was threatened by bankruptcy.
The takeover operation was arranged by a group of top northern industrialists, including the Agnelli family of Fiat, the Bonomi, Orlando and Pirelli families, Montedison chemicals, and Mediobanca, an investment bank owned by the giant state holding company, I.R.I.
The takeover is expected to guarantee Rizzoli's financial and editorial independence.
The takeover also was interpreted by financial analysts here as a sign of a new polarization in Italian finance, with the poles represented by Giovanni Agnelli of Fiat and Carlo de Benedetti of the Olivetti, the office equipment company which is partially owned by AT&T.
The favorable report by the administrator, Professor Luigi Guatri, which is almost certain to be accepted by the Milan tribunal, was based largely on the consortium's pledge to recapitalize the company and its successful bid earlier this month of almost $2 million to take over shares previously owned by publisher Angelo Rizzoli, by Bruno Tassan-din, Rizzoli's former general manager, and by the Centrale, a holding company of the new Banco Ambrosiano.
Rizzoli, whose late father Andrea founded the press empire, was arrested last year on charges of fraudulent bankruptcy, along with Tassan-din. But Rizzoli was released later on bail.
A communique issued Oct. 17 by the Rizzoli board of directors quoted Guatri's report as saying that the consortium's commitment for an immediate capital increase of $36.4 million and for another substantial capital increase early in 1985 was "an essential element for the financial recovery" of the Rizzoli group.
However, the court-appointed auditor pointed out, according to the communique, that because of its own efforts the Rizzoli company -- which publishes three dailies and about a dozen magazines -- "now appears able to meet its obligations."
The company is back in the black after running substantial cumulative losses between 1979 and 1982, the communique added.
The takeover operation was led by Gemina, a holding company that will now own 50 percent of Rizzoli. Fiat has a 16.67 percent stake in Gemina, the rest of which is owned by Bonomi (11.11 percent), Pirelli (4.45 percent), Orlando (4.45 percent) and Mediobanca (13.34 percent).
Also participating in the deal is Montedison, itself owned partly by Gemina, which financial sources say will control between 25 percent of Rizzoli through its META company.
Mittel, a group of Catholic bankers and industrialists from Florence and Brescia (including Giovanni Bazoli, president of the Nuovo Banco Ambrosiano) will own 12.5 percent.
Another 12.5 percent will go to Giovanni Arvedi, a manufacturer of steel tubing from Cremona, and now Rizzoli's largest individual shareholder.
Prior to the consortium's offer, there had been two other unsuccessful bids for Rizzoli, one from a group headed by a businessman from Genoa and another by a wealthy Italian, who owns three gambling casinos in Kenya.
And earlier, sugar refiner and publisher Attilio Monti, who already owns three other dailies, withdrew from the running when it became clear his ownership of the Rizzoli chain would mean infringement of a recent antitrust bill for publishing.
There had also been feelers by de Benedetti and another group of Italian publishers, Mondadori, Rusconi and Caracciolo, but financial sources here say Agnelli quickly moved to block that move.
Although de Benedetti worked for Fiat as a top manager for a few months in 1976, the two have recently become top rivals in Italian finances.
And, that rivalry has increased since de Benedetti successfully took part in AT&T's acquisition of one-fourth ownership of Olivetti in December of last year in a $260 million deal.
The Rizzoli takeover, analysts say, shows private non-church capital is divided into two major camps. On the one hand, there is Gemina with Mediobanca and the old families.
On the other, de Benedetti is bringing newer Italian capitalists together in his CIR holding company.
The takeover by the Gemina-Meta-Mittel-Arvedi group was greeted with general satisfaction in business and political circles that had feared Corriere della Sera might end up under the control or domination of one of Italy's political parties.
However, not all observers here were totally satisfied. Some have said that Mediobanca's participation violates a law barring newspaper ownership to state agencies or companies.
Other critics have complained that since Montedison already owns Rome's Il Messaggero newspaper and Fiat owns La Stampa of Turin that the new deal could also violate the antitrust publishing statute.