Ex-Groundforce boss in group bidding to retake control

  • Lusa
  • 21 July 2021

"Since the moment I left Groundforce, I have maintained and shown interest because I believe in the company, in the workers, and I believe that things have to have a solution", said ex-CEO.

The former chief executive of Portuguese ground handling company Groundforce, Paulo Neto Leite, is part of a group that made an offer for the shares of the company to bank Montepio, maintaining its interest in the company, he said, speaking to Lusa.

“There is a process underway, and I understand that all parties are focused on there being an international player,” he said.

“Since the moment I left Groundforce, I have maintained and shown interest because I believe in the company, in the workers, and I believe that things have to have a solution that does not use the workers as a platform for pressure,” he said, adding that he participated in a “robust proposal” to buy the shares, without revealing who the partners were.

Portugal’s minister for infrastructure and housing, Pedro Nuno Santos, said on Tuesday that the state and TAP would ensure a solution for Groundforce, even if the process of selling the company’s shares, which is in the hands of bank Montepio, fails.

In a regular hearing at the Economy, Innovation, Public Works and Housing Commission, the minister said that “there is a sale process underway, led by Montepio, which yesterday [Monday] had a critical court decision that recognises the right to sell Pasogal’s shares [50.1%] in Groundforce”.

“We are monitoring the situation, and we expect that the sale process will be successfully concluded, and that would mean the entry of a partner with the financial capacity for us to be able to start a life of stability,” he said.

However, the minister noted, “if Montepio cannot proceed with the sale, the state or TAP will find a solution.

Groundforce is 50.1% owned by Pasogal and 49.9% by the TAP group, which in 2020 became 72.5% owned by the Portuguese state.

The newspaper Eco reported Monday night that Montepio had taken control of Groundforce after the court found an injunction filed by Alfredo Casimiro of Pasogal to prevent this control “unfounded”.

Paulo Neto Leite said the existence of this government solution is “excellent”. “TAP needs Groundforce, tourism needs Groundforce, and GDP needs Groundforce,” he said.

“We cannot be hostage to the opinion and wishes of a person who on some days wants one thing and on others wants another,” he said, indicating that Pedro Nuno Santos’ statements show that “there are several options”.

Concerning the company’s debts to airport operator ANA, which have led the airport management company to warn that it may go ahead with revoking licenses, Paulo Neto Leite said that “a company cannot survive just by paying salaries, the suppliers also have their own salaries to pay, there has to be a framework for the company to be viable.

On 10 May, Groundforce’s general shareholders’ meeting resolved the “dismissal for just cause and with immediate effect” of Paulo Leite, the group’s former executive president for management acts “that harmed the company,” according to a statement.

In the statement, Pasogal, owned by Alfredo Casimiro, the main shareholder of the handling company – who has since taken over the executive presidency of the company – said “the dismissal for just cause and with immediate effect of Paulo Leite, who was until recently the CEO of the company”, had been decided with immediate effect.

“This deliberation is based on the practice of successive management acts that harmed the company, as well as on news fed by him and never denied, which contributed to the deterioration of the internal environment and the relationship between its shareholders,” he said.