Legal threats fly as Ansett's airport row escalates

Old Jan 30, 02, 6:56 am
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Legal threats fly as Ansett's airport row escalates

Legal threats fly as Ansett's airport row escalates
Jan 31
Simon Evans and Katherine Towers
Ansett's administrators have threatened court action against any party that tries
to take advantage of the delay to Tesna's $3 billion rescue deal, as the Sydney
Airport Corporation Ltd claimed the syndicate was denying it key details about its
business plan.
SACL wants to know how Tesna will operate Ansett and whether its plan is
sustainable so it can determine if it will allow the syndicate to link Ansett's
terminal lease to workers' entitlements.
The row over the terminal, which is delaying Tesna's acquisition for up to 30
days, escalated as it emerged that the administrators, Mr Mark Mentha and Mr
Mark Korda of Andersen, are considering suing former Ansett administrators
PricewaterhouseCoopers for shutting the airline last September.
Mr Mentha and Mr Korda are investigating whether the two-week grounding
contributed to Qantas and Virgin Blue taking large chunks of market share from
Ansett and damaged the airline's value.
The threat of court action to protect the rescue package is believed to have been
sparked by concerns that suppliers and creditors could seek to use the delay in
the Tesna deal to impose tougher terms on Ansett.
Lawyers for the administrators foreshadowed the action during a Federal Court
application in Melbourne to allow the administrators to continue trading and
negotiating on behalf of the company despite ongoing weekly losses of $6
Ansett's lawyers said the administrators would not bow to pressure from anyone
seeking to use their position to gain preferential treatment as unsecured
Mr Simon Whelan QC told Justice Susan Kenny the situation was very "likely to
arise in the next [few] days".
"The present situation involves a large number of other parties, and I don't have
any particular party in mind, who one way or another have to consent or agree to
take steps in order to enable the Tesna transaction to be consummated," Mr
Whelan said.
Meanwhile, SACL suggested yesterday that if all the information requested on
the future financial and capital structure of Ansett was furnished by Tesna and
was deemed satisfactory, then the Sydney airport domestic terminal lease could
be used as security against workers' entitlements in a matter of days.
A copy of a letter sent to Andersen on January 8 by Sydney airport's head of
property and development, Mr Colin Grove, obtained by The Australian Financial
Review listed 12 separate pieces of information required by SACL.
The requests included full details of Tesna's ownership and shareholding and
directors, details of Tesna's financial capability and, if it was proposed that a
financier or another person would be taking security over any of the leases or
assets of Ansett at Sydney airport, then details of the financier's requirements
needed to be provided.
SACL also demanded in the letter an explanation as to Tesna's "apparent desire
to be able to pick and choose assets and leases it wants, and at the same time
to receive the benefit of all grandfathered rights previously enjoyed by Ansett".
The Tesna syndicate is made up of Melbourne businessmen Mr Lindsay Fox
and Mr Solomon Lew and US airline investors Mr David Bonderman and Mr Bill
SACL chief executive Mr Tony Stuart said yesterday the organisation had been
"extremely pro-active" in its approach and had offered an interim arrangement
where Tesna could operate from the Sydney domestic terminal from February 1
on a temporary basis, until the assignment was finalised.
SACL had been greatly concerned that the administrators only organised a
meeting to discuss the issue two weeks ago.
Mr Stuart said it appeared the administrators had been "overstretched".
But Mr Korda said last night Andersen believed that under the terms of the
existing lease between Ansett and SACL "we have provided all the information
needed to effect a transfer of the lease to the Tesna consortium".
The administrators would continue to work with SACL to expedite the process.
Under the SACL charter, it is obliged to thoroughly investigate the financial
capabilities of any new entity that wants to operate an airline and use the
terminal, even though Ansett already holds the lease.
Diner's Club and the Global Rewards Action Group have agreed to wait until the
details of Tesna's new frequent-flyer program are released before they try to
negotiate a better deal from the administrators for 67 billion frequent-flyer points,
which were assigned a value of $140 million for the creditors' meeting.
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