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Portugal sells 61% of TAP to US-Brazilian airline entrepreneur

Portugal’s government said Thursday it will sell its 61 percent stake in struggling flag carrier TAP to US-Brazilian entrepreneur David Neeleman, who founded the low-cost JetBlue and Azul Brazilian airlines.

“The selected bid is that of the Gateway consortium” formed by Neeleman and Portuguese businessman Humberto Pedrosa, said Miguel Poiares Maduro, a minister in the Portuguese prime minister’s office.

The government’s choice was based on “the best offer, notably in what involves reinforcing the financial capacity of the TAP group”, he said.

Neeleman’s offer was at least 354 million euros ($397 million), which includes the recapitalisation of the TAP group, money for the state and the price of the option for a remaining 34 percent stake, the government said.

“This amount could increase to 488 million euros based on the airline’s performance in 2015,” added Isabel Castelo Branco, the treasury’s secretary of state.

TAP suffered net losses of 46 million euros in 2014, has little cash and a debt load of nearly a billion euros.

Portugal’s centre-right government decided in November to relaunch the privatisation of TAP with the aim of parting with 66 percent of its shares, while reserving five percent for the airline’s employees.

Neeleman — who also founded Morris Air — has also pledged to purchase 35 new planes for TAP’s fleet.