airBaltic's future uncertain after Krajbanka's collapse

29.11.2011, 14:00

The newest star of the airBaltic soap opera is the Russian billionaire Vladimir Antonov. Although his name was mentioned in connection with airBaltic before, the collapse of his banks Snoras and Latvijas Krajbanka have made him a topi-cal character once again, writes

DiThe root of the problem is Baltijas Aviacijas Sistemas (BAS), airBaltic's private shareholder. It is nominally co-owned by airBaltic's former long-standing CEO Bertolt Flick and Bahamas-registered Taurus Asset Management, each owning 50% of the company. Flick became an airBaltic shareholder in 2009, when its former minority shareholder SAS decided to sell its shares. Flick was a willing buyer, and the money for the deal was provided by Latvijas Krajbanka. This, coupled with the rather opaque nature of Taurus Asset Management, has raised the question whether Flick indeed is the real owner of the company or is he just a front man for Antonov.

The question becomes even more topical now that the Latvian government has agreed to bail out the airline, investing – together with BAS – LVL 107m in the airline by the end of the year.

The troubling question, however, is what will the Latvian government do if BAS can no longer keep making payments. Opinion is divided on the subject. Gints Kirsteins, airBaltic's Council Chairman, believes that, if need be, the state could provide BAS' share, too. Kirsteins believes that the state already has calculated the risk that BAS may not be able to fulfil its obligations and set aside the necessary funding. The Latvian Ministry of Transportation, however, stresses that it has not considered taking over the BAS share, so any opinions on the contrary are just Kirsteins' personal opinion.

Meanwhile, the Latvian State Po-lice has prohibited any registry changes for both airBaltic and BAS. It means that neither company can change its owners, officials or basic capital for the time being. The police have not explained the reasoning behind their decision.

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