Phone tapping points to politically motivated sacking of ex-TAP CEO

 In Aviation, Lawsuits, News, TAP

The defence team of former TAP boss Christine Ourmières-Widener may use a phone tap of a conversation between former prime minister, António Costa and his Finances minister Fernando Medina suggesting that her dismissal was politically motivated.

Christine Ourmières-Widener, who is seeking compensation and damages for loss of reputation of €4.9 million after she was dismissed over a scandal involving a former director, Alexandra Reis, who had accepted an amicable recision of €500,000 to leave the airline over fundamental policy differences with the CEO over the extent and speed a which the airline was being restructured — a golden handshake she was not legally authorised to make.

The defence team alleges that the French management executive had been fired for political reasons in a successful attempt to cover up a total failure of coordination between the two ministries – Infrastructure and Finances – responsible for the public-owned airline which is likely to be privatised either this year or next.

In a tapped call recorded as part of Operation Influencer which brought down the PS government of António Costa in December 2023 over allegations of traffic of influence regarding a data centre and green hydrogen contracts in Sines, António Costa had admitted the need to fire Christine Ourmières-Widener for political reasons and replace her with the current CEO, Luís Rodrigues, according to reports by CNN Portugal and Correio da Manhã.

The call was between Costa and the then minister of Infrastructures, João Galamba on 5 March 2023 at 6.12pm at a time when the government was about to be confronted with the controversial €500,000 golden handshake paid to Alexandra Reis which she subsequently had to pay back.

Costa is apparently heard to say: “The €500,000 has already cost us dear and the public need to feel that the government doesn’t consent to such sh**.”

So to stem public outrage at the payout, Costa is allegedly heard telling Galamba that it was “time to dismiss Christine Ourmières-Widener”. “If this turns into a hell, it’s her or us” “I have already spoken with Fernando (Fernando Medina, the then minister of Finances) and we’re not in the clear if we keep her on, neither will the lady politically survive”.

Christine Ourmières-Widener’s defence team will now evaluate the pertinence of using the phone tap and if it can even be used legally at all.

Ourmières-Widener was appointed CEO of Portugal’s flag carrier TAP Air Portugal in June 2021.

During her time as CEO of TAP Air Portugal, the company went through restructuring and saw a return to positive financial growth which was also partly boosted by the end of COVID-19 travel restrictions on passenger traffic.

However, in 2023 the ex-CEO got caught up in the Alexandra Reis case. Reis, a secretary of State for the Treasury who had been a board member of TAP, was dismissed by Christine Ourmières-Widener who chose not to publicly disclose the dismissal.

Instead, it was made to look like an amicable rescission with Reis leaving the company with a hefty severance pay of €500,000 to compensate the remainder of her full 4-year term contract with paid holidays.

Alexandra Reis then went on to work at Portugal’s air traffic control company NAV, another state-subsidised institute. The whole episode when it came out in the press caused a public outcry.

Political pressure led to the dismissal of Pedro Nuno Santos, the then minister of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Housing (now the leader of the PS socialist party), an office directly in charge of overseeing the management and government policy regarding TAP, and who allegedly gave Christine Ourmières-Widener the green light to dismiss Reis.

On 6 March 2023, weeks after a public inquiry in the Portuguese Parliament about the Alexandra Reis case, and after the final audit report from the public spending watchdog IGF (General Inspectorate of Finances), the government dismissed Ourmières-Widener from TAP with no severance pay.

In September 2023, Ourmières-Widener filed a lawsuit against TAP with the Central Civil Court of Lisbon to claim over €5.9 million in compensation.