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SAirGroup boss tries to restore public confidence

Mario Corti faces his shareholders at Wednesday's AGM Keystone

The chairman of the embattled SAirGroup, Mario Corti, told shareholders on Wednesday that he hoped the annual general meeting would help in the process of easing the company's "difficult situation". Shareholders confronted Corti with a series of questions about massive losses, bad foreign investments and several months of managerial turbulence.

This content was published on April 25, 2001 - 18:24

In his introductory remarks at the meeting, Corti traced the history of SAirGroup's problems, which led to the company's worst-ever results last year.

Corti said the search for a new strategy had started when the Swiss people turned down membership of the European Economic Area in 1992, but he admitted that an attempt to create successful alliances had failed.

He is shortly expected to unveil details at the meeting in Zurich of his plans to turn the company around. In response to a shareholder's question, he has already said mechanisms for evaluating high risk ventures would have to be improved.

More than 5,200 people attended the meeting. Some answers to shareholders' questions were greeted with boos and whistles, but overall the AGM was less noisy than had been predicted.

Shareholders approved the annual report for last year which saw losses of almost SFr2.9 billion ($1.7 billion). They are shortly due to vote on whether to call for an independent audit of the company's finances.

Corti is seeking to restore public and shareholders' confidence in the company. SAirGroup, parent company to Swissair, has seen its share price drop by nearly 60 per cent since early January.

Corti is also expected to make a statement about what he plans to do with SAirGroup's 49 per cent stakes in loss-making foreign carriers, including Belgium's Sabena and two French airlines, AOM and Air Liberté. A decision on Sabena is expected in summer.

Unions in France staged strikes on Tuesday, serving notice they would not accept an SAirGroup withdrawal. Corti has already announced the company is pulling out of a third French airline, Air Littoral.

All members of the board, with the exception of Corti, announced their resignations in March after taking responsibility for the failed expansion policy blamed for the group's huge losses.

During the AGM, Corti confirmed that several board members, including the last chairman, Eric Honegger, had received substantial pay-offs. He said that under an agreement with Honegger, reached earlier this week, he would receive an SFr480,000 pay-off.

The SAirGroup group has been hit by a series of highly public executive resignations and dismissals this year, including the former Swissair chief executive, Philippe Bruggisser, and the man appointed to head the airline division, Moritz Suter, who walked out after just 44 days in the job.

Corti's determination to return SAirGroup to its core airline business was underlined with Monday's announcement that the group's hotel arm, Swissôtel, had been sold to the Singapore-based Raffles Group.

The AGM is being closely watched by analysts and banks. A consortium of banks is currently discussing ways to improve the group's financial base.

SAirGroup's shares fluctuated heavily during Wednesday's trading but finished the day in Zurich one per cent higher.

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