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Brussels opens inquiry into Sabena deal

SAirGroup, owner of Swissair, and the Belgian government agreed to pump more funds into cash-strapped Sabena

(Keystone Archive)

The European Commission has launched an inquiry into a re-capitalisation plan for the ailing Belgian airline, Sabena, less than one week after its joint owners, the Belgian government and SAirGroup, injected more cash into the carrier to keep it airborne.

The Commission is to investigate whether the rescue plan violates European Union competition rules.

"An urgent inquiry into the Belgian state carrier has been launched in order to obtain more information," said Michael Tscherney, a Commission spokesman.

A Belgian court asked the Commission whether the injection of €250 million (SFr380 million) was legal or could be considered as state aid, which is not allowed according to EU competition laws.

The Belgian government has a 50.5 per cent stake in Sabena, while SAirGroup, which owns the Swiss national carrier, Swissair, owns 49.5 per cent of the airline.

Last Friday, shareholders agreed to the bailout package which saved Sabena from bankruptcy. If the Commission finds that the plan broke EU laws, then the future of Sabena would be seriously compromised.

Despite the re-capitalisation plan, SAirGroup has raised doubts about its long-term commitment to Sabena.

Writing to employees last week, SAirGroup's chairman and acting chief executive, Eric Honegger, indicated that the group was considering severing its ties to Sabena. "It is possible we will pull out of our commitments in Belgium in the medium-term."

The group is currently undergoing a major change of direction following the departure last month of its chief executive, Philippe Bruggisser. It announced that it would from now on be concentrating on its core airline and airline-related businesses.

swissinfo with agencies


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