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Spurned Air France-KLM CEO candidate takes aim at suitor Accor

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Air France-KLM spiralLed further into disarray as the former frontrunner to become chief executive officer accused hotel operator Accor SA of barring his path in order to gain creeping control of the airline.

 [PARIS] Air France-KLM spiralLed further into disarray as the former frontrunner to become chief executive officer accused hotel operator Accor SA of barring his path in order to gain creeping control of the airline.

Philippe Capron, finance head at Veolia Environnement SA, officially pulled his candidacy for the position on Monday in a letter seen by Bloomberg News to the carrier's chairman, Anne-Marie Couderc.

While the three-page document doesn't name Accor, it leaves no doubt as to the identity of "private interests" determined to gain control of the airline and access to its database of customers. The French operator of brands like the Raffles, Sofitel and Mercure hotels, said in May it's considering acquiring a minority stake in the airline. Chief Executive Officer Sebastien Bazin later said he wants to deepen relations through digital initiatives, a loyalty program and online marketing.

An Air France-KLM spokeswoman declined to comment, while a spokeswoman for Veolia didn't immediately respond. Accor declined to comment.

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The contents of the letter were first reported by the Financial Times and later published on the website of La Tribune newpaper.

Capron was put forth by the nominations committee of Air France-KLM's board last month as the leading candidate for the job left open by the resignation of Jean-Marc Janaillac, who was unable to end a series of crippling strikes. The water-utility executive was axed from the running within days, with Transport Minister Elisabeth Borne calling for someone with transport expertise.

In the letter, Capron said outside forces intervened to block his hire, showing "governance was derailed" at the airline. The executive also described a company under sway of competing interests, including those of the French government, which holds a 14 per cent stake.

Capron said Accor wants to team up with other investors to gain control of the airline in a bid to get around European Union rules on airline ownership. Accor's biggest shareholders are based in China, Qatar and Dubai.

In the letter, Capron said the recruitment process at Air France-KLM left him with a sense of frustration and waste as well as fear for the future of the airline due to its ongoing "moral' crisis.

BLOOMBERG