|Wizz Air denies wrongdoing and attacks "wannabe monopolists"|
The CEO of Belgrade Nikola Tesla Airport, Velimir Radosavljević, was arrested yesterday morning, accused of concluding a damaging agreement with low cost airline Wizz Air. Earlier this year the Serbian government launched an investigation into alleged benefits Wizz Air received from Belgrade Airport since opening its base there in 2011. Reportedly, the airport discounted passenger taxes, handling, landing and service fees for the low cost airline over the past three years. According to the investigation’s findings, Wizz Air saved 5.4 million euros at Belgrade Airport since 2011, including a 20% discount for using terminal one, a 45% discount on handling and infrastructure use, 30% reduction on landing, 100% discount on the use of air bridges, 30% reduction on parking and lighting, 45% off for night time handling and a 45% discount on using other airport infrastructure at night time. According to the Interior Ministry, the terms of the agreement were negotiated solely by Mr. Radosavljević and went against existing legislation at the time. On December 30, 2013, the government introduced terms and conditions under which airlines can be stimulated and receive benefits from Serbia’s busiest airport, however, they did not apply when Mr. Radosavljević made the agreement with the no frills airline. Wizz Air scaled back its operations from Belgrade in May after its benefits were suspended.
In a statement, the Interior Ministry says the airport’s CEO will be detained in custody for 48 hours. Mr. Radosavljević became the airport’s top man in 2009, replacing Bojan Krišto who resigned after it was revealed he paid out massive bonuses to himself and members of the management team following the airport’s sound financial results. Mr. Radosavljevič was previously Mr. Krišto’s deputy. In a similar fashion to his predecessor, Mr. Radosavljevič became CEO upon the nomination of the United Regions of Serbia party which failed to surpass the necessary 5% threshold to enter parliament at the recent March elections. Mr. Radosalvjević was last seen at a work related function at a press conference on Tuesday afternoon when, together with the Portuguese Ambassador to Serbia, he welcomed TAP Portugal as the airport’s latest customer.
|Timeline of events (click to enlarge)|
Wizz Air has responded angrily to yesterday’s allegations, denying any wrongdoing and labelling Air Serbia and Etihad Airways as “wannabe monopolists”. “Wizz Air rejects any suggestions of irregularities in connection with the commercial agreement it concluded between Belgrade Airport”, the airline’s spokesperson Daniel de Carvalho said. He added, “In contrast to the false allegations, Wizz Air passenger numbers at Belgrade Airport increased 800% between 2010 and 2013, while the airport’s total passenger numbers increased 31%, making Wizz Air the main driver of the airport’s growth. Unfortunately, Serbian passengers and tourists now have to stand aside while their choices gradually diminish as a result of a full fare ‘wannabe’ monopolist Etihad/Air Serbia. The unhealthy obsession of releasing false statements relating to the agreement between Wizz Air and Belgrade Airport comes at an ideal time, of course, when the takeover agreement is being investigated by the European Union and when the Commission for Control of State Aid revealed that Etihad/Air Serbia will use the non-transparent incentive scheme, which has been tailored to protect the Etihad/Air Serbia business model which is focused on transit passengers, so as to reduce airport taxes by 100% and thus allow this full fare airline to pay airport taxes to the amount of zero dinars”. Neither Air Serbia, nor Etihad, have responded to Wizz Air’s statement.
So far this year Belgrade Airport has seen record passenger numbers. The Serbian government has said it will give the airport up for concession this year. It has already held talks with two companies from the United Arab Emirates over the concession which entails the construction of a new terminal, runway, hotel and other related infrastructure.