April 23, 2018 / 12:24 PM / 3 months ago

UPDATE 1-Alitalia loans may constitute illegal state aid -EU

* EU can order Italy to recover aid if found to be illegal

* Italy seeking buyers for Alitalia assets (Adds details)

By Foo Yun Chee

BRUSSELS, April 23 (Reuters) - Alitalia may have benefited from illegal state aid, EU antitrust regulators said in a preliminary view on Monday, after the Italian government provided the lossmaking airline with two loans worth 900 million euros ($1.1 billion) until it finds a buyer.

“The Commission has concerns that the duration of the loan, extending from May 2017 until at least December 2018, exceeds the maximum duration of six months allowed for a rescue loan under the guidelines,” the European Commission said in a statement.

The Commission, which can order Italy to recover the money if it rules that the aid is illegal, also voiced doubts as to whether the aid was limited to the minimum necessary.

Alitalia entered into insolvency proceedings in May 2017 and the two state aid loans provided by Italy triggered complaints to the European Commission.

Italy’s quest to find a buyer for Alitalia’s assets has attracted bids from easyJet and Lufthansa and a source told Reuters budget carrier Wizz Air has also put in an offer.

Consortium Compagnia Aerea Italiana (CAI) owns 51 percent of Alitalia while Etihad Airways holds 49 percent.

$1 = 0.8177 euros Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; editing by Robert-Jan Bartunek and Jason Neely

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