Telecom Italia has set up a special committee to “verify within a short time” if it is interested in a partnership with Hutchison Whampoa, which would see the Hong Kong-based conglomerate becoming the “leading shareholder of the company”.

The companies are mulling a “combination in kind or merger” of Telecom Italia and 3 Italy, which Hutchison has said is subject to its acquisition of an additional stake in TI to increase its holding.

The special committee is being led by Franco Bernabe, chairman of the board.

According to reports earlier this week, Hutchison was in talks with Telco, a group which owns 22 per cent of Telecom Italia – although Telco played this down in a filing with the Milan stock exchange.

At this time, it was said that Hutchison is eyeing a stake of up to 30 per cent in Telecom Italia.

However, Reuters said that shareholder Telefonica is “sceptical about the tie-up proposal” and has right of first refusal over some other holdings in Telecom Italia.

Among the directors involved in Telecom Italia’s study is Julio Linares, former COO of the Spain-based operator group.

Another possible complication is the Italian incumbent’s ongoing investigation into the “feasibility” of the separation of its fixed-line network, a move which Reuters said is “politically sensitive”.

While Telecom Italia said that this work is still underway, it made no link with the Hutchison transaction – for example whether the Hong Kong’s company’s plan will change if this spin-out takes place.