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Liquidator turns sights on Swissair partners

Karl Wüthrich is busy unravelling the flow of money to and from Swissair Keystone

The liquidator of Swissair says he intends to force Swiss and Zurich airport to pay back SFr57 million ($46.7 million) received from the airline before it went bust.

In his monthly letter to Swissair’s creditors, Karl Wüthrich said the payments were made after it was clear that Swissair would collapse, making the two firms preferential creditors.

Wüthrich said claim avoidance actions would shortly be lodged against Swiss and the operator of Zurich airport, Unique. He also intends to pursue similar actions against numerous other companies, including fuel suppliers.

The liquidator has identified payments made by Swissair on or after September 30, 2001, when he says it was clear that the airline was finished. Swissair was grounded on October 2.

One payment was to the regional airline, Crossair, around which Swiss was built. It received SFr35.6 million from Swissair after October 5. The money was received as part of lease and code-exchange agreements.

Another payment of SFr21.8 million was made to Unique on October 4 for take-off and landing fees.

Wüthrich says Swissair had already applied for a provisional debt restructuring moratorium by this date, and was not allowed to pay any bills other those which were absolutely necessary to maintain flight operations.

Suspect operations

The liquidator added that he might pursue another avoidance claim for SFr8 million paid by Swissair to leasing company Flightlease on September 20, 2001. This was apparently paid on behalf of Italy’s Volare Airlines to settle a debt owed by Swissair to that carrier.

Fuel suppliers are also in Wüthrich’s sights. He says a number of payments made by Swissair after September 30, 2001, are likely to be challenged. BP, Shell, Esso and Total are among the suppliers named by the liquidator.

Wüthrich in April announced that he was already suing many of the defunct airline’s former bosses and board in an effort to recoup some of the money lost when it went under.

In mid-March he filed lawsuits worth a total of SFr280 million. Among those named in the suits are former CEO Philippe Bruggisser and former finance chief Georges Schorderet, as well as ex-board members, Thomas Schmidheiny, Lukas Mühlemann, and Mario Corti.

The latter was a former Nestlé executive who replaced Bruggisser when the extent of Swissair’s financial problems became known.

Serious charges

The former bosses and board could also face more serious charges – of falsifying documents and breach of trust – if the Zurich cantonal prosecutor brings criminal charges later this year.

Swissair’s suit against the federal authorities has, however, been dropped. The company had been seeking SFr1 billion in damages, claiming the Federal Office for Civil Aviation had not fulfilled its surveillance duties.

“The liquidator and the creditors committee have decided not to pursue the suit any further,” wrote Wüthrich in his newsletter.

“The authorities’ role is not to protect creditor or company financial interests when it oversees civil aviation.”

swissinfo with agencies

Karl Wüthrich says that a number of payments made by Swissair before it collapsed in 2001 can be revoked.

According to his investigations, national carrier Swiss owes SFr35.6 million; Zurich airport another SFr21.8 million and Flightlease SFr8 million.

Swissair’s liquidator is already seeking SFr280 million from former bosses and board members.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR