Senior executives at travel booking site Lastminute.com have been arrested in Switzerland over accusations of misusing public Covid recovery funds.
The company — which was founded by Baroness Martha Lane Fox as part of the British dotcom boom in the early 2000s — has appointed chief customer officer Laura Amoretti as interim chief executive following the arrests of five former and current executives in the Swiss canton of Ticino over the weekend.
The company told investors that police were looking into “a possible situation of abuse in connection with claims and withdrawals of Covid-19 related short-time work allowances” by its three Swiss subsidiaries.
Those arrested include chief executive Fabio Cannavale and chief operating officer Andrea Bertoli, the company confirmed on Monday, along with three other current and former executives.
Both Mr Cannvale and Mr Bertoli have been formally suspended from their posts.
Four of the five have been remanded in Swiss police custody for seven weeks, the Financial Times reported, while prosecutors have frozen 7m Swiss francs (£6m) in the company’s bank accounts. Lastminute’s Swiss subsidiaries had received CHF28.5m (£24.3m) in state subsidies between March 2020 and February 2022, it told investors.
Last week, before the arrests, Lastminute said: “The company is confident of no wrongdoing concerning the matters which are subject of investigation and will support the public prosecutor’s office in its investigation.”
Lastminute.com, which is a Dutch company listed on the Swiss stock exchange, has crashed by a third since the Ticino canton police investigation came to light last week. At the time of writing it was trading at CHF19.04 (£16.38), having closed at CHF29.13 (£25.06) last Tuesday, the day before the police investigation came to light.
Consumer rights organization Which? Lastminute branded “the worst booking site in the UK” in late 2020, lamenting its “uncompetitive prices and feeble customer service” as the travel business struggled with pandemic-related shutdowns and stoppages of global travel.
Baroness Lane-Fox of Soho, the company’s co-founder, has no longer any involvement in the company. She stepped down from Lastminute in 2005 after selling a £4.6m portion of her stake in the business the previous year. The travel website initially floated at £3.80 in the year 2000.