Swiss authorities probe over possible abuse of Covid state aid

Swiss authorities probe over possible abuse of Covid state aid

Chief customer officer Laura Amoretti appointed interim chief executive after five current and former executives detained for up to seven weeks

Five current or former executives of face a probe into possible abuse of state aid for companies hit by pandemic lockdowns.

These include chief executive Fabio Cannavale and chief operations officer Andrea Bertoli, it said in a statement. They are among four people remanded in custody for up to seven weeks, with one other being released.

Prosecutors in the Ticino region of Switzerland also blocked 7 million Swiss francs ($7 million) in company accounts.

The investigation covers certain Swiss subsidiaries, including BravoNext, Bravo Meta and LMNext.

The company today announced that chief customer officer Laura Amoretti had been appointed as interim chief executive.

Lastminute said: “With immediate effect Laura Amoretti assumes the duties originally assigned to directors Fabio Cannavale (CEO) and Andrea Bertoli (COO) in the company. 

“The board has resolved to suspend the powers delegated to both of them for a period of three months in connection with the ongoing investigation of the Public Prosecutor’s Office of the Canton of Ticino. 

“She will also replace them in their respective positions in the subsidiaries.

“The board has also resolved to launch a CEO search for a permanent replacement.”

Company chairman Laurent Foata said: “Laura is a very committed and dynamic leader with vision, energy and substantial relevant experience with our group. 

“Her contribution will be especially precious at this juncture. We look forward to engaging closely with Laura in her new role as she will lead our business forward in this stage of our journey towards profitable growth in the field of travel.”

Lastminute, which is listed on the Swiss stock market, has said it is confident it had done nothing wrong in the matter.

“The company has already taken measures to safeguard adequate continuity of all day-to-day management of the concerned subsidiaries as they may be affected by such measures and continues to support the office in its investigation,” it added.

The public prospector’s office of Ticino conducted searches of the firm’s headquarters in Chiasso last Tuesday in connection with an investigation into the suspicion of fraud, an unlawful claim for social insurance or social assistance benefits and a breach of the Swiss unemployment insurance act, said.

“The investigation aims to assess a possible situation of abuse in connection with claims and withdrawals of Covid-19 related short-time work allowances by the Swiss subsidiaries BravoNext SA, BravoMeta CH SA and LMNext CH SA.

“The aggregate benefits received by the above-mentioned Swiss subsidiaries in the period from March 2020 to February 2022 with respect to their 500 employees amount to 28.5 million Swiss francs.”  

Foata said: “We are confident that management behaved respectfully vis-a-vis institutions and employees throughout the dramatic and unprecedented circumstances of the pandemic. 

“The company will work alongside the Swiss authority to quickly clarify the matters.”

Lastminute reported that profitability in the second quarter of 2022 is expected to be back to pre-pandemic levels and the group’s liquidity “remains solid”, with gross cash at over EUR 200 million at 30 June 2022.