No Foreign Carrier In LAN Stake Bid - Report

February 25, 2010

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No foreign airline is in talks to buy part of Chilean airline LAN owned by President-elect Sebastian Pinera, local newspaper El Mercurio quoted his partner and controller of the company as saying on Thursday.

LAN President and Chief Operating Officer Ignacio Cueto, a member of the family that agreed to increase its stake in the company to keep control this week, said no foreign airline was part of a handful of investors bidding for a stake of up to 11 percent of one of Latin America's top carriers.

"There is none of that. No foreign partner who is linked to an airline. Not directly or indirectly," Cueto was quoted as saying when asked if investors with foreign airline links were negotiating to buy a stake.

Pinera is moving quickly to sell his 26.3 percent LAN stake worth about USD$1.5 billion before he takes office on March 11 to defuse growing criticism over conflicts of interest.

Pinera already agreed to sell 8.56 percent to the Cueto family and plans to auction 6.4 percent for at least USD$375 million.

Investment bank Celfin, in charge of selling Pinera's stake, hinted in an interview with El Mercurio published on Wednesday that the remaining 11 percent could be snatched by a group of investors, including some linked to the airline industry.

The bank said a group of less than 5 investors were interested in that stake.

Some analysts point to Brazil's largest airline, TAM, as the most likely suitor for part of Pinera's stake. The airline declined to comment last month on a media report that it was in talks to buy into the stake.

Cueto said it was very unlikely that TAM would try to buy a stake in LAN.

He added that part of the remaining 11 percent could still be auctioned, depending on how much investors decide to buy directly.

The sale process has added some turbulence to the shares of LAN, but analysts say the company is likely to recover this year from the global economic crisis.

(Reuters)