Neeleman: “I told the government about Airbus funds
Former TAP shareholder David Neeleman has insisted that he informed both the company that runs Portuguese public companies Parpública and the government about the renegotiation of an aircraft lease contract with Airbus.
This is according to his statement to the parliamentary inquiry which has been looking into the management and affairs of the now public owned airline TAP. The statement completely flies in the face of government and Parpública arguments.
In a 35-page document with 80 questions from Portuguese MPs, the US airline entrepreneur rejects any illegal act in the deal. Moreover, he highlights no less than 22 formal “interactions” that show that the information on the Airbus funds and the operation were known by both the government and Parpública.
Among the examples given is a letter sent to Parpública on 19 August, 2015 requesting the release of confidential information on the Airbus Direct Sale Agreement and a meeting on 16 September that year between Atlantic Gateway and TAP SGPS and Parpública “on the capitalisation plan in which the “participation” (funds) from Airbus was discussed”.
Neeleman says that a this meeting a letter was shown to both companies from the Chief Operating Officer at Airbus, John Leahy, which discussed the contribution from Airbus and the terms of which DGN (a David Neeleman company) and Atlantic Gateway would “channel these funds to TAP”.
The Statements from Neeleman are in line with those of the ex-ministers such as Pedro Passos Coelho who was Prime Minister at the time and António Pires de Lima who was Portugal’s minister of the Economy at the time, but contradicts the line of argument from Pedro Marques who had been the minister of Infrastructure for the PS Government in 2015 and who stated that the information was “not in any of the files I saw at the time”.
However, he did know of the renegotiations for the planes contract because of an interview with David Neeleman he had read that was published in the weekly Portuguese current affairs magazine Visão in 2016, but at that time didn’t “see any problems”.
Within Parpública itself there were contradictory statements. Pedro Ferreira Pinto, ex-president of the institution said that in the final TAP privatisation and capitalisation contract signed in 2015 there was a reference to this deal having short-changed TAP by €440 million according to an audit from Airborne.
Carlos Durães Conceição, an ex-director of Parpública said at the inquiry that he hadn’t known about the use of the Airbus funds.
At the end of las year, Pedro Nuno Santos sent the audit report from Airborne – at the request of the TAP board when the company was led by Christine Ourmières-Widener – on the purchase of aircraft during the Neeleman management period, to the Public Ministry.
At issue were suspicions that TAP had paid more for the aircraft than their competitors and that the money made from his deal had been used by Neeleman to pay for his capital share in the airline instead of from his own private money.
This suggestion has been roundly rejected by Neeleman who said that: “These funds were not used to buy TAP shares”.
At that time TAP cancelled the contract for 12 A350 aircraft and opted instead to acquire 53 new-generation aircraft in exchange for a “contribution” of over €200 million from Airbus to David Neeleman which it is alleged he used to capitalise TAP as he was bound to do under the terms of the privatisation agreement. In other words that money belonged to TAP and should have gone ot TAP.
As to the conclusions reached by the consultant Airborne, Neeleman said he not know about the evaluation.
“I would really love to get hold of this report and know the assumptions that have been made, but they never sent it to me,” he said.
“Neither did TAP, throughout these years, ask me for any clarifications about this or any other matter, and this tells me a lot about how serious they take this process”, added Neeleman.
Neeleman also rejects that TAP paid over the market value for the aircraft, as did the ex-CEO Fernando Pinto in his written statement in which he pointed out that three evaluations concurred (from Ascend,, Avitas, and Comercial Aviation Services). Pinto in his statement said he did not know the Airborne report in detail and therefore could not give an opinion on its “credibility and experience” since he didn’t know, but admitted that there were “relevant changes in the market between 2015 and the present date”.