JetBlue founder raising funds to purchase carrier, TAP: report

SAO PAULO Fri Jun 28, 2013 2:06pm EDT

JetBlue Airways founder David Neeleman of the U.S. gestures as he speaks to journalists during a media conference in Sao Paulo March 27, 2008. REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker

JetBlue Airways founder David Neeleman of the U.S. gestures as he speaks to journalists during a media conference in Sao Paulo March 27, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Paulo Whitaker

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - David Neeleman, founder of airline JetBlue Airways Corp (JBLU.O), is putting together a $3.2 billion investment fund to buy back control of the company and purchase Portuguese airline TAP TAPA.UL, Brazilian newspaper Folha de S.Paulo reported on Friday.

Neeleman, who currently owns Brazilian airline Azul Linhas Aereas, denied the plans, telling Folha "I always think about things we can do, but at this moment, I am focused on Azul. It is not true that I will buy TAP or JetBlue."

JetBlue shares rose nearly 4.4 percent to $6.35.

According to the report, which did not identify its sources, Brazilian state development bank BNDES BNDES.UL will contribute $600 million for a 20 percent stake in the fund, while Azul stakeholders will also participate. Neeleman himself will contribute 5 percent of the fund's total, the report added.

A JetBlue spokeswoman said the company does not comment on rumors or speculation.

Azul representatives denied the report, while a BNDES spokesman said the bank would not comment.

Speculation about Neeleman buying back JetBlue goes back several years. He told CNNMoney in an interview in April 2011 that buying it back was "always an option," but was not a great investment at that time.

(Reporting by Roberta Vilas Boas, Alberto Alerigi and Sagarika Jaisinghani; Writing by Asher Levine; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)