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Court stalls Chinese firm's plan to sell French airport stake

[TOULOUSE] A French court on Monday ordered the operator of the Toulouse airport to postpone its annual shareholder meeting, the latest twist in a dispute over a Chinese firm's plan to sell its nearly 50 per cent stake.

Casil Europe, a holding company created by China's state-owned Shandong Hi-Speed Group and Hong Kong-based Friedmann Pacific Asset Management, is hoping to sell its 49.99 per cent stake to French construction and concessions group Eiffage.

Casil wants to unload the shares after the French government decided last year against selling it a further 10 per cent, an option Paris had retained after privatising the airport in 2015.

But the airport's other main shareholders - a group of local governments and the Toulouse Chamber of Commerce - are fighting the sale to Eiffage.

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They say the fast-growing regional hub needs public ownership to ensure its profits are re-invested in its operations, and not siphoned off by private owners.

They asked the commercial court in Toulouse to put Casil's stake in an escrow account to prevent any deal with Eiffage, a bid that was rejected by the court on Monday.

But the court did order the postponement of the airport operator's annual meeting set for Wednesday, meaning no votes can be taken for crucial decisions on dividends or a stake sale.

It said the operator must wait for a ruling on the appeal of a Paris administrative court decision to cancel the airport's privatisation, which the government is contesting.

The Toulouse airport chalked up a record 14.6 per cent increase in 2017 traffic to 9.2 million passengers, making it the fifth-largest in France.

That was driven mainly by the growth of low-cost European airlines like EasyJet and Ryanair, with international flights now making up half of its traffic.

Casil Europe had said it wanted to boost traffic to 18 million passengers by 2046, in large part by developing connections to Chinese destinations.

AFP