February 5, 2020 / 7:52 PM / 15 days ago

Avianca's top shareholder says has no knowledge of alleged Airbus bribes

BOGOTA, Feb 5 (Reuters) - German Efromovich, the majority shareholder in Latin American airline Avianca, said on Wednesday he does not have any knowledge of widespread bribes allegedly paid by European manufacturer Airbus.

Airbus agreed last week to pay a record $4 billion in fines after reaching a plea bargain with prosecutors in Britain, France and United States over alleged bribery and corruption stretching back at least 15 years.

Avianca on Monday said it had hired a law firm to investigate its relationship with Airbus and determine if it had been a victim of wrongdoing.

French prosecutors said in settlement documents that Airbus had agreed to pay multi-million dollar commissions to an agent over jet sales to Avianca, some of which were earmarked for a senior executive at the airline’s parent, Avianca Holdings.

The payments were thwarted by a freeze on agent commissions as Airbus tightened processes in 2014, they said.

Avianca’s negotiations with Airbus for the purchase of about 180 airplanes for operations in Colombia, Brazil and potentially Argentina were direct and took place without intermediaries, Efromovich said.

“We did a totally transparent tender,” Efromovich told reporters in Bogota. “If Airbus paid something to someone it was pure imbecility because there was no reason to do it.

“I can’t say who was the source of corruption, I don’t know. There was never a finger of an intermediary that we know of or at least that I knew of.”

Bolivian-born Efromovich, 69, bought Avianca out of bankruptcy in 2004 and grew it to become Latin America’s No. 2. He lost control of Synergy Group, which ultimately controls Avianca, in 2019 amid a dispute with United Airlines.

Efromovich said he is interested in possible investments in Italian airline Alitalia and Indian operator Jet Airways, in company with other investors.

Jet, however, will need to recoup its landing slots in London’s Heathrow airport in order for its international operations to be viable, Efromovich said.

“On our own we don’t have the resources,” he said. (Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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