Sacked Malta airport CEO loses unfair dismissal bid

Former CEO Markus Klaushofer accused of showing interested buyer sensitive MIA data in bid to obtain 10-year contract at double his salary

Former Malta International Airport chief executive officer Markus Klaushofer
Former Malta International Airport chief executive officer Markus Klaushofer

Malta’s Industrial Tribunal ruled that former Malta International Airport chief executive officer Markus Klaushofer breached company confidentiality, when he exchanged sensitive data with a prospective buyer for MIA shares.

Klaushofer’s bid to have his 2015 sacking ruled illegal and obtain damages beyond a €400,000 termination offer which he refused, was thrown out by the Industrial Tribunal, which found him in serious breach of his obligations.

Klaushofer had been accused of providing confidential data to Antin Infrastructure, an interested buyer seeking to acquire SNC-Lavalin’s share in the consortium that owns the airport. MIA’s majority shareholder (86%) today is Vienna International Airport operator VIE.

MIA chairman Nicholas Gretzmacher accused Klaushofer of providing Antin with airport data in breach of a confidentiality agreement for directors, ostensibly to become “friendly” with the new investor to retain his executive position.

MIA chief executive officer Alan Borg also said Klaushofer had requested traffic forecasts from his own subordinates, and asked them to given the data a positive spin to influence the MIA share price.

Borg said Klaushofer was angling for a new 10-year contract as CEO, at double his €175,000 salary, with Antin, which at the time was represented by former MIA shareholder Michael Bianchi in a bid to acquire the SNC-Lavalin stake.

Even Antin representative Maurizio Bolana told the Industrial Tribunal that Klaushofer’s bid to extend his CEO’s tenure, had not left a positive image of the candidate with Antin’s CEO Alan Rauscher, during a meeting held in August 2014.

“Klaushofer must have been communicating and meeting with the consortium and providing information which the company was not authorized to provide to third parties… there was the possibility that the information being provided was projecting an image of the company which was not correct, through inflated figures and forecasts,” Gretzmacher told the Tribunal in an affidavit.

After sacking the CEO, an investigation revealed that Klaushofer had spent 220 days away from the island in 2014, “which in my view does not constitute sufficient time spent at the office on active duty in Malta for a person holding such a position,” Gretzmacher said.

Klaushofer stayed in Paris twice during December 2014 and January 2015, ostensibly to meet Antin representatives, and that throughout his stay had asked MIA employees to email him the business plan for the coming 10 years, MIA forecasts, and data on non-aviation income.

Between July 2014 and January 2015, Klaushofer had “no fewer than 60 telephone calls with representatives of the consortium lasting in total over five hours and he sent more than 400 text messages to them.” Gretzmacher said Klaushofer had “particularly insensitive contact” with Michael Bianchi, with 42 calls and 382 SMSes.

“Klaushofer had an obligation to report immediately any attempt made by a representative of the consortium to establish contact… he not only violated this obligation, he also maintained close contact with the consortium over the course of several months during a critical phase for the sales negotiations,” Gretzmacher said.

Klaushofer insisted with the board that his sacking had been a fait accompli, instrumentalised by MIA’s majority shareholder VIE and its chief operating officer Julian Jaeger, MIA’s one-time chief executive. But during the hearing, he first denied meeting Antin CEO Alan Rauscher, then later admitted discussing the possibility of being kept on as CEO should Antin acquire the MIA shares.

The Tribunal said the alleged contacts between Klaushofer and Antin had revealed a serious breach of the CEO’s obligations, and that his actions had placed MIA at risk, denying the company his “full and unquestionable trust”.