Olympic sale grounded, again

Greece’s privatization program suffered another heavy blow yesterday when the preferred bidder for Olympic Airways walked away from the struggling national carrier, saying it was too difficult to negotiate with the government. On Monday, it was announced that the effort to sell a minority stake in Hellenic Petroleum had fallen through. National Economy Minister Nikos Christodoulakis tried to downplay the significance of these two high-profile failures, saying the government «will not sell (these assets) for a song.» He said that Olympic would continue restructuring and would keep on flying. The government wants to keep Olympic, with its six-ring symbol, flying at the time of the Athens 2004 Games. The three Greek banks advising the State in the planned sale of a 70-percent stake in Olympic – National Bank, Commercial Bank and Alpha Bank – said the talks had collapsed. They did not give a reason. But Dow Jones quoted Golden Aviation Group as saying the two-month talks with the government had been «too difficult.» The group, led-by Greek shipowner Stamatis Restis, was the preferred bidder to buy the stake in Olympic Airways. It had offered 150 million euros. This was Restis’s second effort to buy the company. Now the government is expected to turn to the second bidder, private Aegean Airlines, which told Kathimerini English Edition that it is still interested in Olympic. Among Olympic’s problems are a demand by the European Commission that it pay back 194 million euros in misused State subsidies. The goverment has appealed against this.