It is remarkable that Aviapartner does get money. Federal Finance Minister Alexander De Croo (Open VLD) always made it clear that the government would only help companies that were healthy before the corona crisis. But both Swissport and Aviapartner have been making losses in Belgium for years.
In May, the federal core cabinet discussed extensively the difficult situation of all companies in the Belgian aviation sector. Already then there were signs that the two authorized handlers in Zaventem were having a very difficult time.
The Swiss headquarters asked for a ‘transformation plan’ from Swissport Belgium at the end of March. However, given the global crisis, the shareholder no longer wanted to pump money into his loss-making Belgian activities. As a result, the company did not meet the second condition of the government’s rescue.
After several contacts, the line between the government and Swissport suddenly stopped. “There have been attempts in recent weeks to contact Swissport management, unfortunately without an answer from them,” Federal Minister of Mobility François Bellot (MR) told the House last week. “It is extremely difficult to help where possible and within the rules that apply to it, if communication is not possible.”
It is very difficult to help where possible and within the rules that apply if communication is not possible.
Swissport denies that it is very hard. According to the company, a final meeting with the Federal Participation and Investment Company (FPIM), which manages the state aid file, took place on April 17. “At the end of that meeting, it was clear to us that the FPIM was not in a position to provide any support to Swissport Belgium,” the company said. Swissport said it was no longer contacted by the federal government afterwards. Last week, the bomb burst and, to the surprise of ministers, Swissport filed for bankruptcy.
The downfall of Swissport Belgium strengthened Laurent Levaux’s negotiating position. Suddenly Aviapartner had a monopoly in Zaventem. It is beyond dispute that Levaux made use of his excellent political contacts, especially at the MR.
Unlike Swissport, Aviapartner was open to the convertible loan preferred by the government. If Levaux does not repay the money within the foreseen term, the Belgian state will automatically receive shares from Aviapartner. Levaux needs to convert the loan into share capital and thus strengthen the solvency of his company.
The cunning Levaux was well prepared. Just after the outbreak of the corona crisis, the people from Liège acquired Aviapartner completely. With a few managers, he then took over the minority interest of the American venture capital fund HIG Capital. In this way, in contrast to Swiss Swissport with its Chinese owner HNA, Levaux Aviapartner was able to profile itself as a ‘real’ Belgian company with Belgian shareholders and a Belgian headquarters. A company that is entitled to Belgian state aid.