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SAir Group gets go-ahead for Belgian airline take-over

The Belgian government has given Switzerland's SAir group, which owns the national airline, Swissair, the go-ahead to take over the Belgian carrier, Sabena.

The Belgian government has given Switzerland's SAir group, which owns the national airline, Swissair, the go-ahead to take over the Belgian carrier, Sabena. The agreement was signed in Brussels by the entreprise minister, Rik Daems, and the chairman of SAir, Hannes Goetz.

SAir, which held 49.5 per cent of Sabena's shares, is set to increase its stake to 85 per cent, following the Belgian government's decision to further privatise the airline. The Belgian government had until now owned 50 per cent of Sabena's shares.

SAir is to up its stake from 49.5 per cent to 85 per cent via a two-tiered share swap deal.

"SAir will execute its 1995 warrants to bring its stake to 67.5 per cent," said SAir spokeswoman Elke Jeurissen. "It will then bring it up to 85 per cent and Belgium in return will get a 3.3 per cent stake in SAir, making it the biggest shareholder."

Belgium has the right to increase its holding in SAir to 5.5 per cent in exchange for its remaining 15 per cent of Sabena. The deal values Sabena at around SFr 590 million.

The Belgian government's approval was a necessray step in Swissair's long-awaited takeover of Sabena, which is expected to give Swissair a better foothold in the EU air transport market. The measure can, however, only take effect once a series of bilateral accords between Switzerland and the European Union are ratified.

The Swiss people are expected to approve the accords, including an agreement on air transport, when they vote in a referendum on May 21. However, the parliaments of all 15 EU member states and the European Parliament must approve the accords before they can come into effect.

SAir has pledged to maintain the Sabena name, and said it would seek a listing for Sabena on the Euronext bourse, the stock exchange to be formed through a merger of the Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam exchanges.

The move follows months of speculation over the future of Sabena after the Belgian government said last year it was considering the sale of its majority holding.

swissinfo with agencies

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