Owner of Colombia's Avianca eyes Alitalia, LOT takeovers: report

WARSAW/BOGOTA Tue Dec 17, 2013 12:55pm EST

Avianca owner Colombian-Brazilian businessman German Efromovich speaks at a news conference in Bogota October 7, 2009. REUTERS/John Vizcaino

Avianca owner Colombian-Brazilian businessman German Efromovich speaks at a news conference in Bogota October 7, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/John Vizcaino

WARSAW/BOGOTA (Reuters) - The owner of Colombian airline Avianca AVT_p.CN (AVH.N) is considering taking over Italian airline Alitalia CAITLA.UL or Polish state-owned LOT LOT.UL to boost his presence in Europe, he was quoted as saying in a Polish newspaper on Tuesday.

Any such purchase by German Efromovich would likely be carried out independently of Avianca after it later said in a statement that it had no interest in either airline. An Avianca spokesperson said Efromovich may have been speaking in a personal capacity, not on behalf of the company.

The Colombian-Brazilian entrepreneur told the Rzeczpospolita daily that another option for him was to build a new airline from scratch in Europe.

"We must take the decision regarding our future purchase no later than in the first two months of 2014," Efromovich was quoted as saying.

"I must boost the presence of my airline in Europe, either through acquisitions or by starting a new company."

"I am certainly looking at Alitalia and Lot," he added.

Avianca published a short statement later on Tuesday saying it was not interested in making the purchases, though it did not deny the comments made by Efromovich.

"With regard to the news published in various media implying that Avianca would buy Alitalia or LOT, we clarify that neither Avianca Holdings SA as controlling company nor Aerovias del Continente Americano SA Avianca, have considered or are considering these acquisitions," the company's statement said.

Analysts at Grupo BTG Pactual began coverage of Avianca Holdings SA on Tuesday with a "buy" recommendation and a price target of $23 on the company's U.S.-traded shares.

The New York-listed stock was last trading up 0.62 percent at $14.70.

Poland's deputy treasury minister said last week the government may consider privatizing LOT together with other air industry businesses after it brings them all into a single holding company.

Efromovich, who was born in South America into a family of Polish Jews, acquired Polish citizenship in order to facilitate his bid for Portugal's flagship airline TAP TAPA.UL last year.

Portugal rejected Efromovich's bid last December, saying it would postpone the long-awaited privatization of its debt-laden carrier.

Just last week, Portugal said it would likely relaunch TAP's privatization in the first quarter of 2014, but Efromovich said buying TAP was "not necessarily a priority" for him now.

(Editing by Mark Potter, G Crosse)

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