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TAP Air Portugal CEO Fired Over Irregular Severance Payment to Government Official

Christine Ourmières-Widener rebuts the Portuguese government's decision: "All legal consequences will be withdrawn in due time"

by Enrique Perrella

March 7, 2023

CEO Christine Ourmières-Widener / Photo: Courtesy of TAP Air Portugal

Christine Ourmières-Widener, now the former CEO at TAP Air Portugal, has been ousted by the Portuguese government over a severance payment to Alexandra Reis, a former government official who also held a seat on the airline’s board.

The scandal that led to the immediate departure of Ourmières-Widener and the airline’s chairman, Manuel Beja, has been described as an episode that “has shaken the confidence of the Portuguese in TAP,” according to Portugal’s Finance Minister, Fernando Medina.

“It is essential, above all, to recover the bond of trust between the country and the company,” said Medina, who also informed that the country’s flag carrier will now be led by Luis Rodrigues, the former CEO of SATA Air Açores, a privately-owned carrier based in the Azores.

According to Medina, Alexandra Reis was forced to quit her role as Secretary of State in December. Reportedly, she asked for a severance payment of €1.5 million ($1,586,000) but was only given what has been deemed an “illegal” payment of €450,110 ($476,000). The finance minister noted that the payment was approved under the leadership of Ourmières-Widener and Beja, triggering an immediate termination “with just cause.”

Ourmières-Widener rebuts the Portuguese government’s unilateral decision, noting she feels “perplexed.” She claims she was the only person directly involved with the matter who was not interviewed by the investigative board.

“This discriminatory behavior on the part of the IGF is duly recorded, for which all legal consequences will be withdrawn in due time,” reads the document drafted by Ourmières-Widener.

In the meantime, Medina clarified that regardless of the shakeup at the airline’s command center, TAP Air Portugal continues on its path to privatization.

Currently, the airline is under an EU-approved €3.2 billion ($3.38 billion) bailout plan following the debacle caused by the pandemic. However, the Portuguese government, which owns 100 percent of the airline, is keen on securing a deal for the sale of the airline soon. The Lufthansa Group and Air France-KLM are the top candidates for a total takeover of the airline.