STA, 25 February 2020 - A company in Chinese ownership that used to lease the Maribor Airport plans to file a damage suit against the state after it terminated the lease in early 2019, whereupon the airport management was turned over to a state-owned consulting and engineering company.
The company, Aerodrom Maribor, said in a press release Tuesday it will demand EUR 2.1 million in damages, the equivalent of the lease payments for the duration of the agreement, plus costs and lost profits.
The lawsuit will claim that the state dragged its feet on the adoption of a zoning plan that would have allowed the Edvard Rusjan Maribor airport to extend the runway.
Aerodrom Maribor will claim that after the company terminated the lease, the state engaged in violations of the law by continuing to use real estate at the airport that remains in the ownership of Aerodrom Maribor.
Consequently, they will demand the erasure from the land register of an easement on the property that they say the state entered into the records based on a contract that never took effect.
Aerodrom Maribor also accuses the state of continuing to deceive potential investors by stating in a recent call for public-private partnership that a zoning law was in the making.
"It appears the state continues with its contentious conduct - by misleadingly attracting new investors willing to invest in the Maribor Airport in the conviction that the state will fulfil its promises," the company said.
After the lease was terminated, the management of the airport was entrusted to the state-owned firm DRI, which also hired all workers.
The move was designed as a stop-gap measure to keep the airport open until a new operator is found so as to prevent a scenario under which it would have to return EU funds: in accordance with the commitments accompanying a EUR 6 million injection of EU funds, the airport must stay open at least until mid-November 2021.
The termination of the lease ended a testy relationship between the state and a lessee that promised investments in excess of EUR 600 million and passenger numbers reaching two million by 2028, figures widely seen as unrealistic considering the location of the airport and nearby rivals Graz and Zagreb.
The company however maintains that its plans had been viable, assuming the state would keep its promises.
Outgoing Infrastructure Minister Alenka Bratušek responded to the development today by arguing the first assessments indicated the plaintiff had absolutely no chance of success.
She stressed that Aerodrom Maribor stopped paying rent almost immediately after she became minister and that it was Aerodrom Maribor that cancelled the lease.
"The ministry had honoured all the terms set down in the contract," Bratušek added, while saying that a kind of promise that the zoning plan would be changed by March 2018, issued in writing by the then Infrastructure Ministry State Secretary Jure Leben, was not binding on the state.
"The relevant institutions will be the ones to judge if this letter entails any commitments for the state," the minister said, while arguing that the Infrastructure Ministry was in fact not authorised for making such zoning changes.
Maribor airport remains virtually abandoned: without a single scheduled flight, it is confined to occasional charter flights and small sports aircraft.
It recorded only 2,700 passengers in 2018, the latest year for which figures are available.