The mobile telecommunications company, Orange, has withdrawn its sponsorship of Switzerland's Expo 02. The national exhibition organisers have called the pullout "unacceptable".
Orange told Expo on February 14th that it was pulling out of its sponsorship deal, which would have involved the company staging an exhibition at the event. It added that it was ready to fight its decision in the courts if necessary.
Laurent Paoliello, a spokesman for Expo 02, said they were confused by the mobile phone company's decision and angry because they had already signed a contract with Orange.
Paoliello expressed concern that Orange might take legal action without first consulting the Expo organisation committee.
"Of course we want to exercise our rights in this situation," he said, but went on to reassure Orange that if Expo were to pursue legal avenues, they would consult them first.
Orange said their decision was based upon the results of preliminary research into the exhibition project, though the company provided no further details.
Paoliello dismissed the reasons for the pullout as spurious and said that Orange had not voiced any doubts at all when they originally signed the contract in January.
Orange's withdrawal from the project follows that of fellow telecommunications company DiAx/Sunrise. Expo is now left with a total of only 39 exhibitors.
The withdrawal comes as a further blow to the beleaguered national exhibition, which has suffered a series of setbacks delaying its opening by a year.
Franz Steinegger, the head of Expo's management committee, told a meeting of governing parties last week that SFr200 million ($118 million) was needed before the end of June to finance the project.
Despite the latest setback, he remained adamant that the exhibition would open on schedule in May 2002, and would not overrun its budget of SFr1.4 billion.
swissinfo with agencies