The Benetton family is considering action against the attempted expropriation of part of its land in Argentina's Patagonia region by two indigenous families, Benetton's Compania de Tierras Sud Argentina S.A. said in a statement late Thursday.
The statement follows the declaration made earlier this week by Argentina's land secretary Luis D'Elia about his intention to support the bid by the Curinanco and Nahuelquir families, both of which are of Mapuche heritage.
The families are seeking the restitution of 525 hectares in Argentina's southern Chubut province owned by the family behind the famous clothing company, Benetton SpA (BNG).
"We have learned about the situation from the media and we are currently conducting a deep analysis and defining the company's reaction," said Compania de Tierras, which manages Benetton's 900,000-hectares property in Southern Argentina.
"Given the potential seriousness involved, we are following the matter very closedly and whatever position to be adopted by the company will be discussed by the shareholders in Italy," the statement added.
Compania de Tierras is controlled by the real estate unit of the Benetton's family holding company, Edizione Holding SpA, which controls 67% of Benetton SpA.
State-run newswires Telam on Wednesday quoted D'Elia as saying that the government "won't do anything reckless" against the Benettons. However, when the government makes a decision on the matter, "its action will be very effective," D'Elia said, adding that the government appointed a legal team to study the case in order to be as precise as it has been in its action against the U.S. garment mogul-turned conservationist, Douglas Tompkins.
Last month D'Elia presented a bill to Congress seeking to expropriate a wide swath of land owned by Tompkins - who founded the U.S. apparel maker North Face - alleging that his property in Argentina's northern Corrientes province controls a large freshwater source.
In its statement, Benetton's Compania de Tierra noted that the fight over Santa Rosa, the contended property in Patagonia, had already been subject to litigation by the Curinanco-Nahulquier families in May 2004. At that time, the company say, an Argentine court ruled in favor of the Italian family.
"The judge's ruling was based on the evidence of the property rights provided by Compania de Tierras," the company said, stressing that the families who are now seeking that land's restitution never appealed against this ruling.
Compania de Tierras said it will inform the press when it will take a decision about its further action.
The Benetton's fight against expropriation in Argentina comes amid other battles that Edizione Holding is fighting in Italy, both as the major shareholder in Italy's highway operator Autostrade SpA (AUTO.MI) and in Telecom Italia SpA (TI), which it owns via the unlisted holding company Olimpia SpA.
Both Autostrade and Telecom Italia are currently in the middle of a major transformation attempt, which are being blocked by the Italian government. Autostrade is seeking to merge with Spain's Abertis Infraestructuras SA (ABA.MC) while Telecom Italia is attempting to spin off its mobile arm and to possibly sell it.