Scandal-hit Monte Paschi seeks new investor to revive bank

Italian bank Monte dei Paschi di Siena is seeking a financial investor to help revive the ailing lender and will remove a current cap on voting rights to help raise 1 billion euros ($1.3 billion), its chairman said.

"I would like to have a long-term financial investor," Alessandro Profumo told Italian business daily Il Sole 24 Ore in an interview published on Sunday. "Nationality is not a problem. The important thing is that it believes in our project".

Late on Saturday the Bank of Italy gave its approval to Monte Paschi's request for 3.9 billion euros ($5.3 billion) of state loans, which Profumo said would be issued by February.

The central bank's backing was the final stage required to free up the financial help for Italy's third-biggest lender, which this week revealed loss-making derivatives trades that could cost it about 720 million euros.

In October, investors cleared a 1 billion euro share issue as part of its business plan, which Profumo said would be launched by the end of 2015.

Shareholders in the world's oldest bank on Friday approved two additional capital boosting measures for a combined 6.5 billion euros to be used in case the bank is not able to pay back the loans and interest with cash.

Profumo said he was confident the bank would generate enough cash to pay back the state bailout over the next five years and may not need to turn to investors to raise the 6.5 billion euros, which he described "theoretical" guarantees.

"We believe in this. The objective is to return to profits already during the course of this year," he said.

The bank will remove its current 4 percent cap to voting rights before launching the 1 billion euro cash call, he added. The move would encourage investors who could end up with more than 4 percent stakes to participate.

The scandal around opaque Monte Paschi trades is widening fast and Italian media have reported that public prosecutors are investigating a large number of derivatives contracts.

The issue has shot to the centre of the campaign for next month's national election and has prompted questions about how the deals, which were conducted between 2006 and 2009 and involved Japanese bank Nomura and Deutsche Bank, could have been hidden from regulators.

Monte Paschi was already under investigation over its 9 billion euro cash acquisition of smaller lender Antonveneta from Spain's Santander in 2007.

In an interview with La Repubblica daily on Sunday, Monte Paschi Chief Executive Fabrizio Viola said he had no evidence at this time that any crime had been committed, but the bank would not hesitate to protect its interests by taking legal action should any crime be ascertained by judges. ($1 = 0.7421 euros)

(Reporting By Danilo Masoni; Editing by Alison Birrane and Jane Baird)