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Italian Leather Goods Titan Delle Valle Wants to Bid for La7 Broadcaster

ROME – Billionaire Diego Delle Valle, the leather-goods and shoes magnate, announced Monday he is interested in acquiring control of Telecom Italia Media’s La7, the smallest of Italy’s seven national broadcasters. But the deadline for bids for the company has already past.

Della Valle’s interest adds a high-profile name to a bidding process that has whittled down from seven companies last year to just two before Della Valle’s expression of interest. And along with Rupert Murdoch, whose Sky-Italia satellite broadcaster has grown into a major player in Italy’s crowded television sector, it could result in another deep-pocketed rival for Silvio Berlusconi’s Mediaset empire.

Della Valle, who controls the Tod’s brand of leather goods and shoes, is already a vocal critic of Berlusconi, whom he has criticized for growth-sapping government policies while serving as prime minister and embarrassing personal and legal scandals in his private life.

“My idea is to …  support an important instrument of information guaranteeing it total autonomy,” Delle Valle said Monday.

It is not clear if Delle Valle has made a formal bid for La7 or whether such a bid would be accepted by Telecom Italia Media, which set the deadline for presenting bids as this past Friday. Telecom Italia is looking to unload its broadcasting holdings in order to pay down debt and focus on its core telephony business.

Unlike Delle Valle, Cairo Communications and Clessindra, the two other bidders for La 7, have been through weeks of vetting so far.

Telecom Italia issued a statement Monday saying it would study Delle Valle’s proposal to determine whether to reopen the bidding.

La 7 is the smallest national broadcaster in Italy, behind the three networks from state broadcaster RAI and three other networks from Berlusconi’s Mediaset, which also includes the Medusa cinema production and distribution house.

Berlusconi is in the midst of a heated political campaign as he seeks to become prime minister for the fourth time. The latest polls showed him narrowly trailing former minister Pier Luigi Bersani but well ahead of incumbent Mario Monti. The vote will take place Feb. 24-25.

Telecom Italia Media is expected to make a decision on the fate of La7, MTV-Italia, and some broadcast infrastructure it owns before the end of the month.