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​Thai duty-free king sells Asia Aviation stake after 18 months

Thai AirAsia chief executive Tassapon Bijleveld has bought back 36.3% of Asia Aviation, the holding vehicle for the airline.

He paid Bt8.3 billion ($253 million) to obtain 1.8 billion shares at Bt4.7 a share, says Asia Aviation in a statement.

The shares were acquired from the family of Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, group chairman of Thailand duty-free monopoly King Power Group. Just 18 months ago, in June 2016, King Power paid Bijleveld's family Bt7.9 billion to obtain 39% of Asia Aviation.

Bijleveld's deal, confirmed the evening of Wednesday 27 December, sees him pay a sharp discount to yesterday's Asia Aviation share price of Bt6.15 a share.

The deal brings his stake to 41.3%, while the Srivaddhanaprahha family's stake drops to 3.5%.

Asia Aviation is a 55% shareholder in Thai AirAsia, while Malaysia's AirAsia owns the remaining 45%.

Bangkok Bank provided Bijleveld with financial support for the transaction. He is required to make a mandatory tender offer for the 58.7% remaining shares in Asia Aviation by 8 January 2013, at Bt4.7 per share.

Bijleveld says that the acquisition comes down to his "love" for the airline.

“I assure all that the management team who has been running the airline from the very first day will continue to play a critical role in driving Thai AirAsia forward, along with the staff that have always been so dedicated in helping the airline becoming Thailand’s number one airline which is reflected in our leading market share," he says.

"Thai AirAsia will continue to invest in 2018 as planned, which will include amongst other things, the acquisition of seven aircraft. We estimate the number of passengers in 2018 to be around 22 million and we can achieve this by penetrating new markets in ASEAN, India and China.”

His remarks in mid-2016, when King Power bought 39% of Asia Aviation, were similarly optimistic.

“We will also look to further expand our flight network within ASEAN, as well as routes to China and India, and with the support of Mr Vichai’s King Power Group we may well see the company’s growth accelerated beyond what was originally anticipated,” he said.

Tony Fernandes, chief executive of AirAsia, was also upbeat about King Power's entry in June 2016: “The potential tie-ups between AirAsia and King Power, Thailand’s sole duty-free operator, are massive and we look forward to working together, not only in Thailand but across the group and ASEAN.”

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