An investigation has been opened by the National Financial Prosecutor's Office (PNF) on suspicions of embezzlement of public funds in favor of the company Ryanair which operates at La Rochelle airport, according to a judicial source, confirming Friday information from France Bleu.
The preliminary investigation was opened in May for "favouritism, embezzlement of public funds and concealment of these offences" after the publication in the spring of a report by the Regional Chamber of Auditors of Nouvelle-Aquitaine "which could implicate Ryanair, the joint syndicate managing the airport, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry" and the tourism committee "Charentes Tourisme". the judicial source said.
As part of this investigation, "a search was carried out in these places and at the town hall of Châtelaillon-Plage by the gendarmes of the Bordeaux research section, deployed in large numbers," it added. "Paper and digital documents were seized."
La Rochelle-Ile de Ré airport, created in 1939 and owned by the Charente-Maritime Chamber of Commerce and Industry, "has limited commercial traffic" with "essentially seasonal" activity and "a dozen routes operated by low-cost airlines", notes the Regional Chamber in its report on the 2017 and subsequent financial years. The airport's "cumulative operating deficit" is "more than €3.73 million" for 2017 and 2018.
€2 million in aid to Ryanair
This deficit can be explained by the low number of passengers - 240,000 passengers in 2018 - and "the large sums paid to airlines to maintain or develop commercial traffic", i.e. €3.5 million between 2017 and 2018, "including €<> million to Ryanair". This aid is also in addition to the financing of the public service obligation "to ensure the opening up of the territory".
Since 2017, the CCI "has thus resorted to fee reductions for the creation of other routes, as well as so-called prudent investor contracts", authorising an airport to subsidise a company if profitability is assured. However, the Chamber "noted irregularities affecting several of these contracts, which were awarded without advertising or competitive tendering in breach of the rules relating to public procurement and some of which were signed several weeks after their entry into force".
The CCI also paid Charentes Tourisme €500,000 per year, "then paid to Ryanair for the provision of marketing services". Stressing "the lack of control over these services, some of which are non-existent", the chamber considers that "the real purpose of this arrangement is to conceal the allocation by the airport of additional funding" to Ryanair without complying with "European legislation on state aid.