Portuguese authorities are investigating a 2015 leasing transaction for 53 Airbus (AIR.PA) aircraft by flag carrier Transportes Aéreos Portugueses (TAP) for possible unlawful payments, sources told Reuters.
TAP Air Portugal is Portugal’s current state-owned flag carrier airline, based in Lisbon Airport, which also serves as its hub.
After a record $4 billion corruption settlement with the U.S., British, and French authorities in 2020 and a related $16.62 million French settlement late last year, this is the latest investigation into Airbus’s earlier commercial transactions.
In October 2022, Pedro Nuno Santos, then-Minister of Infrastructure, informed a parliamentary committee that TAP had requested an audit of the lease deal because it believed it was paying higher than fair market value for the planes. The news organisation, ECO revealed the additional $254 million in charges last week.
The minister stated, without providing any additional information that the government had made the decision to send the audit to the office of the public prosecutor, which acknowledged earlier this week that it had taken up the case.
“It is under investigation and subject to the secrecy of justice.”
The Controversial Lease Agreement
The controversial lease agreement under scrutiny was originally signed when TAP, which is now once again wholly state-owned, had just undergone privatization, giving control to the Atlantic Gateway partnership between American-Brazilian aviation billionaire David Neeleman and Portuguese businessman Humberto Pedrosa.
Pedrosa told Reuters he is subject to legal evaluations and was
“completely confident of the legality of the acts carried out within the scope of our participation in the TAP privatisation process, always conducted with total transparency.”
U.S. Breeze Airways founder and CEO David Neeleman did not immediately respond to questions emailed to him, but he has denied any wrongdoing in the past, claiming that Atlantic Gateway’s strategic plan for TAP was transparent and approved by the state, and that new planes were purchased or leased at market prices “as shown by the various independent assessments”.
The Conspiracy Theory
According to sources cited by Reuters, investigators are looking into a probable conspiracy in which Airbus used the contract amendment to fraudulently finance Atlantic Gateway’s takeover of TAP in 2015.
Airbus is also being investigated for possibly questionable commission payments to Atlantic Gateway, as per the second source.
However, TAP has chosen not to comment on either the investigation or the allegations.
Airbus did not respond to inquiries on whether Portuguese prosecutors had contacted it, citing “our confidential contractual agreements with customers” as the reason for its silence.
Will the investigators conduct a fair probe to unfold the probable conspiracy? Share your valuable comments below.