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Viewing cable 06BRASILIA1302, BRAZIL: VARIG'S DEATH THROES

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
06BRASILIA1302 2006-06-29 10:10 2011-01-10 00:12 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Brasilia
VZCZCXRO4538
PP RUEHRG
DE RUEHBR #1302/01 1801000
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 291000Z JUN 06
FM AMEMBASSY BRASILIA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5916
RUCPDO/USDOC WASHDC PRIORITY
INFO RUEHRG/AMCONSUL RECIFE 5028
RUEHRI/AMCONSUL RIO DE JANEIRO 2359
RUEHSO/AMCONSUL SAO PAULO 7321
RUEHBU/AMEMBASSY BUENOS AIRES 4116
RUEHAC/AMEMBASSY ASUNCION 5521
RUEHMN/AMEMBASSY MONTEVIDEO 6338
RUEHSG/AMEMBASSY SANTIAGO 5609
RUEHPE/AMEMBASSY LIMA 3061
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS 3324
RUEHQT/AMEMBASSY QUITO 1879
RUEHLP/AMEMBASSY LA PAZ 4678
RUEHBO/AMEMBASSY BOGOTA 3817
RULSDMK/DEPT OF TRANSPORTATION WASHDC
RUEAYVF/FAA MIAMI
RUEAYVF/FAA MIAMI ARTCC MIAMI FL
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 BRASILIA 001302 

SIPDIS 

SENSITIVE 
SIPDIS 

E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: EAIR EIND OPRC BR
SUBJECT: BRAZIL: VARIG'S DEATH THROES 

REF: Brasilia 1185 and previous 

(U) This cable is business-sensitive. Please protect accordingly. 

1. (SBU) Summary. On June 23, Rio Bankruptcy court Judge Luiz Roberto Ayoub declared the bid by VARIG workers group TGV as failed since it unsurprisingly was unable to make its first required payment of USD 75 million. Judge Ayoub also said that he will now focus on the USD 485 million bid for VARIG by former subsidiary VarigLog, which is partially owned by MatlinPatterson subsidiary Volo Brasil. Coincidentally, on the same day, Brazil's civil aviation administration ANAC ended its investigation of the VarigLog sale to Volo, saying that it has determined to its satisfaction that Volo meets Brazilian foreign ownership restrictions, although that decision will ultimately lie with Brazilian tax authorities. Since June 10, VARIG's average cancellation rate has been 62.5 percent per day, and it has cancelled flights to 10 international destinations and reduced frequencies to another eight until further notice. Wait times for flights that do take off average 100-240 minutes. The company is operating an estimated 30 planes of its 65 aircraft fleet. It has been removed from the IATA clearing house, resulting in at least 11 companies' non-acceptance of VARIG-endorsed tickets. Brazilian authorities are planning for the worst, but saying little, with the military readying five aircraft to transport VARIG passengers and ANAC encouraging TAM and GOL to free up seats to VARIG ticket holders. Legal actions threaten to: hold the Rio judge accountable for his delayed acceptance of TGV's bid, place VARIG executives in the US in jail, prevent VarigLog from acquiring VARIG, and open the any potential buyer to further liability from creditors. End Summary.

SPENDING BEYOND THEIR MEANS --------------------------- 

2. (SBU) The VARIG workers group TGV finally admitted, to the surprise of no one, that it did not have the required USD 75 million to effectuate the initial payment for the company. Rio Bankruptcy judge Luiz Roberto Ayoub then declared TGV's auction bid void. The announcement came after two days of meetings with Brazil's National Development Bank (BNDES) to negotiate a loan and a 7-hour extension. Group representatives, who have still refused to name their financial backers, hold the Judge responsible for their failure to raise the funds, blaming his delay in accepting their bid, the short amount of time given to effectuate payment, and his general handling of the whole process; they have mentioned litigation more than once. 

LESS MONEY, MORE PROBLEMS ------------------------- 

3. (SBU) Oddly enough, the TGV did not blame other factors that may have played a part in discouraging financial backers. Since June 10, VARIG cancellation rates have hovered between 55-70 percent. Those flights that take off see a 100-240 minute average delay. After earlier denials to econoff by a Sao Paulo-based VARIG sales manager, IATA announced June 20 that it had removed VARIG from its clearing house, meaning VARIG-endorsed tickets for passengers whose flights are cancelled have no financial backing. IATA did not announce how much money it is owed, but said that VARIG has been in arrears since April. Other airlines are no longer obligated to take their passengers. On June 21 VARIG announced its suspension of flight operations to Milan, Munich, Madrid, Paris, New York, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Monetivideo, Assuncion and Bogota, or 72 percent of its international flights. It is has also further reduced its frequency to Miami and London to once per day. (Note: Some London flights have been cancelled.) A company spokesman said the move was precipitated by its failure to come to amicable terms with leasing companies. Many of its international flights have been cancelled through June. Such cancellation rates are understandable since the company is operating about 30 aircraft.

 4. (U) To add injury to insult, one of Boeing's MD-11s leased to VARIG was involved in a serious incident at Brasilia's international airport on June 17, in which the middle landing gear failed to 

BRASILIA 00001302 002 OF 003 

initialize properly. The ensuing break in the middle wheel well damaged the fuselage and the BSB landing strip, causing a 2 hour closure of the runways at the airport. Because of lack of funding, many VARIG aircraft lay fallow or worse with no available resources to fix them or fuel them. 

MONEY TALKS: VARIGLOG TO THE RESCUE? ------------------------------------ 

5. (U) During his June 23 announcement to annul the TGV bid, the judge also stated that he would now turn his attention to VarigLog's bid for VARIG. VarigLog, which has partial ownership by Volo Brasil, a MatlinPatterson (U.S. investment fund) subsidiary, offered to buy its former parent company for USD 485 million. While VarigLog had made an earlier USD 350 million bid for VARIG in April, it was rejected outright under ANAC suspicion that Volo was not fully in compliance with Brazilian laws regarding foreign investment control. In fact, during meetings with Emboffs in April, ANAC officials went far as to rule out the sale of VarigLog to Volo. However, after months of investigating, ANAC leadership conceded, also on June 23, that such a determination was not within their purview and that the Brazilian tax authorities would determine ownership. The ANAC determination coincided with press reports that VarigLog was prepared to immediately inject US 20 million into the company to assist it with short term credit problems. Thus far, VarigLog has given USD 3 million as a sign of good faith of its intentions. It plans other deposits to keep the airline going until Judge Ayoub makes a decision about sale or liquidation. Ayoub must now call a meeting with creditors to determine the viability of the bid. VARIG will once again go to auction, and one assumes, with only one buyer. TGV's failed bid automatically disqualifies it from further participation. 

6. (U) However, two issues cast long shadows of doubt over the auction. First, the Brazilian Treasury (Receita Federal) and the Brazilian Social Security Administration (INSS) obtained an injunction against the sale until the issue of whether the money raised in a new auction would be used to pay taxes and social security debts, which total USD 1.56 billion. Second, VARIG's administrator, Deloitte, insists that the "old VARIG" continue to operate with a guaranteed 5 percent of the new VARIG formed by the buyers. According to many legal analysts, this would mean that, legally, VarigLog would assume VARIG's debt (Reftel). 

THIS IS THE LAST TIME; I MEAN IT -------------------------------- 

7. (U) The reprieves that VARIG has customarily received have been from GoB entities BR Distribuidora, a Petrobras subsidiary and from airport administrator INFRAERO. These abeyances will perhaps soon end. VARIG has renegotiated a payment plan with BR Distribuidora seven times in 5 weeks, sometimes for just 24-hour periods. This is after BR spokesmen vehemently proclaimed in April, May and June that the time to support VARIG out of their own pockets had come to an end. INFRAERO once again set a firm date of July 1 when VARIG must pay its airport fees before landing in a Brazilian airport, or not be allowed to land. The date has slipped four times since April when INFRAERO first announced that it would resume charging the tax to all cairlines after a seven-month hiatus, which caused INFRAERO more than its share of financial pain. Complaints piled as regular maintenance went undone, some of which was linked to anaccident at Congonhas Airport, Brazil's busiest (Reftel). 

8. (SBU) All the while, ANAC, which has never publicly announced its contingency plan if VARIG goes under, has pressured local carriers TAM, GOL and OceanAir to transport stranded VARIG passengers on their flights and they have accepted. On the non-announcement of a definitive plan, shares in TAM and GOL which had enjoyed upward pressure since February, fell due to negative hedging on how much absorbing VARIG's estimated 28,000 customers will cost them. ANAC did announce that all Star Alliance partners will ensure that Brazilians in foreign locations will be accommodated. Star Alliance leadership, however, corrected ANAC's announcement stating that the airline partnership is a commercial activity between VARIG and its alliance partners, not between ANAC and the Star Alliance. The BRASILIA 00001302 003 OF 003 Brazilian military has made ready five aircraft to transport VARIG passengers if they are stuck overseas without option. Brazilian diplomatic posts have notified host-country authorities to be prepared for a VARIG failure. The Brazilian Embassy in Washington has notified FAA to expect a diplomatic note petitioning for the accreditation of Brazilian airline OceanAir, a company currently with no long-haul capabilities. 

AT LEAST NO ONE IS GOING TO JAIL, YET ------------------------------------- 

9. (U) Numerous current and potential legal battles surrounding VARIG's bankruptcy promise to erupt into mayhem. VARIG itself has sued the GoB for damages it believes it is owed for operating under the strict pricing rules following 9/11. (Note: TAM and other airlines have also sued; the case has not yet been decided.) ILFC, the most vociferous foreign player in the VARIG bankruptcy universe, had asked the New York Bankruptcy court judge to order prison sentences for the VARIG executives who are in the U.S. until the company returned their planes. The judge denied the prison sentence request, but did stipulate that VARIG had to ground ILFC planes and was not allowed to cannibalize, or dismantle the leased aircraft and transfer parts. Willis Lease, another aircraft company received a court injunction to prevent VARIG from using its craft. Econoff spoke to a Boeing representative who said all but one of Boeing's ten planes leased to VARIG are grounded, either because of maintenance issues or by court order. They have not yet taken possession of their aircraft. The cancellations of Boeing aircraft covered routes ensured that for now. 

10. (U) The National Airlines Association (SNEA in Portuguese) announced on June 24 that it will now seek an injunction against the sale of VARIG to VarigLog. The association says that VarigLog has not proven that it has less than 20 percent foreign participation to qualify as a Brazilian controlled company. The Public Ministry and the Superior Court handling the government's accounts may be forced to sue INFRAERO if it offers yet another reprieve to VARIG to pay landing taxes. Currently, only VARIG is relieved from paying the fees. TAM, GOL and other airlines have complained publicly that they had to pay the reinstituted fees and thus so should VARIG. They have also threatened legal action. Now that TGV's bid has been disqualified and the group forbidden to participate in the next auction, should it happen, the group may pursue a legal case against Judge Ayoub for what it called an 'unjustified delay' that endangered its bid. 

COMMENT ------- 

11. (SBU) The legal wrangling, delays, cancellations, timed announcements and misinformation surrounding VARIG's protracted failure promise to continue through the fall, if not further. Even if Judge Ayoub allows the VarigLog bid to move forward, the company has a number of legal hoops to jump through, if it so chooses. Why a company would choose to buy VARIG, with the assured promise of legal liability for past debt, is beyond us. The bigger bang for the buck is obviously to await declared failure of the airline and then swoop in and acquire assets and airport space. Judge Ayoub's continued delay in making decisions on the fate of the airline and NY Bankruptcy judge Drain's unwillingness to allow lessors to physically re-take their craft, in a sense, is killing VARIG through kindness. It is increasingly clear that pressure from the Lula administration during an election year is the only thing that could be keeping this process dragging on. We consider that the only plausible explanation for BR Distribuidora and INFRAERO's leniency on VARIG, and ANAC's consideration of a legally questionable acquisition of VARIG by Volo via VarigLog. Unfortunately for everyone, creditors and passengers included, the airline industry and Brazil's investment climate will be left to deal with the wreckage. 

CHICOLA