Commission still sizing Olympic Airlines’ debt

NICOSIA – The EU wants a swift conclusion to the issue of illegal state aid given to Greece’s Olympic Airways but is still discussing the exact amount Olympic will be required to repay, Transport Commissioner Jacques Barrot said yesterday. The European Commission has ruled that Olympic Airways and its successor, Olympic Airlines, must repay as much as 540 million euros ($655 million) in state aid. Olympic has appealed against the decision. In comments to Reuters on the sidelines of a shipping conference in Cyprus, Barrot said the Commission found that cash handouts to Olympic were distorting competition and that part of the aid it received should be returned. «I imagine that in the next few months things will be clarified. The issue is that now a decision has been taken, there should be a conclusion,» Barrot said. An assessment is now in progress over the precise amount Olympic will be required to repay. «We have mentioned that it is in the many hundreds of millions of euros, but we still have to clarify with the Greek government what the precise amount is,» said Barrot, speaking through an interpreter. Greece’s Parliament passed legislation last week offering the troubled carrier temporary protection from its creditors. In August the government signed a preliminary agreement to sell Olympic Airlines to investment group Olympic Investors-York Capital. Despite the ruling from Brussels, Greek authorities have continued talks with candidate buyers and officials say they will exhaust all margins to clinch a sale. «We must recall that this case dates back several years, to an era when the Commission had allowed state benefits by Greece. But it was always stating that it should be the last time,» said Barrot. Aegean disinterested Separately, privately owned Aegean Airlines said in Athens it is not interested in Greece’s Olympic Airlines or any of its assets. «Aegean and its shareholders state categorically that they are not interested in acquiring any asset or flight operation of the Olympic group,» the carrier said, dismissing recent claims by Olympic unions that it was eyeing choice pieces of Olympic. Aegean said it would support whatever scheme evolves out of Olympic’s privatization effort, provided the new entity is compliant with Greek and EU law on competition.

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