Liquidator aims for SAirGroup directors

Both Swissair and Sabena went out of business Keystone Archive

The liquidator of the collapsed Swissair, Karl Wüthrich, is taking legal action against the board of directors of the airline's parent company, the SAirGroup.

This content was published on March 18, 2006

He accuses them of having injected cash into the Belgian airline Sabena in February 2001, causing damage to the SAirGroup of €150 million (SFr235.9 million).

The action over liability has been handed in to the Zurich district court, Wüthrich indicated in a circular to creditors, adding that the move was being taken after the failure of a conciliation procedure.

Wüthrich claimed that by recapitalising Sabena the directors had failed in their duty and were therefore responsible for damages.

In December 2000 "the board of directors had recognised that the Swissair group did not have the financial means to make up a fourth force in the European aviation landscape."

"It should have given up its expansion strategy that had been pursued until then."

Disastrous situation

However, the board decided to transfer the €150 million to Sabena knowing only too well in what "disastrous economic situation" the SAirGroup found itself.

The board also knew that Sabena was over-indebted and the injection of cash could only cover the airline's financial needs for a short time.

The SAirGroup had held a 49.5 per cent stake in the Belgian airline since 1995, with the remainder owned by the Belgian state and Belgian state investment companies.

When it restructured in 1997, the SAirGroup transferred its participation in Sabena to SAirlines, whose capital it held entirely.

The Belgian state has also taken legal action against Swissair bosses, arguing they committed fraud in drawing it into the Sabena recapitalisation.

Sabena has also taken action for mismanagement of the company.

The latest liquidator's circular said examination of claims in the procedure for establishing the order of priority of creditors was almost complete.

A plan to sort out the different classes of creditors should be ready by May, it added.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Bankruptcy procedures underway:
SAirGroup: approximately SFr15 billion.
Swissair: SFr5-10 billion.
SAirLines: SFr1-5 billion.
Flightlease: SFr5 billion at most.

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In brief

Swissair planes were grounded on October 2, 2001, after the company had been 71 years in business.

The downturn in the aviation market after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, proved the last straw for the heavily indebted Swissair, which folded the following year.

The airline collapsed because it over-extended itself by buying stakes in numerous loss-making airlines, including Sabena, in an attempt to form its own airline alliance.

The remains of Swissair and the regional carrier Crossair were brought together in 2002 to form the new national carrier Swiss, which was in turn taken over by Lufthansa last year.

Swiss has yet to make a profit.

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