A battle for control of Avior Airlines (9V, Barcelona José Antonio Anzoategui), the biggest privately owned carrier in Venezuela in terms of fleet size, has shifted in favour of two businessmen based in the United States who scored a victory at the Miami-Dade County Civil Court last week, the Associated Press news agency reported.

Judge Michael Hanzman rejected a previously unreported lawsuit that had been brought by one of Avior’s owners, Jorge Añez, which alleged that his former Florida-based partners - a group of investors including Carlos Kauffmann and Moises Maionica - had overcharged Avior for parts and services.

In his ruling, the judge found that Añez had no authority to represent the airline, arguing that he had formed an “illegitimate board” to take control of the carrier and that there was significant evidence he had falsified the company’s financial records. The judge added that Añez had lied in testimony and attempted to perpetrate “fraud” through the US legal system.

“Mr. Añez’s claim of 100% ownership of Avior is a complete fabrication, which reeks of afterthought and was concocted only after [...] a dispute over the operations of Avior,” the judge said.

In 2008, Kauffmann and Maionica were sentenced to more than a year in prison in the US for allegedly helping to smuggle USD800,000 in cash from then-president Hugo Chavez's regime in Venezuela to Argentina to assist in financing the campaign of former president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.

On leaving prison, the two men remained in the US, in 2010 paying USD5 million for a 50% share in Avior and its affiliates - which now include Colombian regional carrier GCA Air (9A, Cali) - and helped transform it from a struggling airline with a single aircraft to a successful one plying both domestic and international routes.

Avior Airlines now operates an all-owned fleet of five B737-200s, seven B737-400s, and six Fokker 50s, according to the ch-aviation fleets advanced module, but all are currently stored or in maintenance. As previously reported, Venezuela’s state-run flag carrier Conviasa (V0, Caracas Simón Bolivar) acquired its only A340-300, YV3292 (msn 199), in June ostensibly as part-payment of a debt.

With tough US sanctions on Venezuela in recent years, Avior’s fortunes took a turn for the worse. Relations between the partners soured in late 2018, and Añez agreed to acquire the other half of the airline for USD37.5 million, but the deal was never executed. Instead, Añez filed the Miami lawsuit against his partners and, the judge said, altered the company ledger that had listed them as shareholders.

“He thought that because of our background we would be afraid to defend ourselves in American courts and that it would be a handicap,” Kauffmann told the Associated Press.

He admitted that as long as the regime of Nicolás Maduro remains in power, there is little chance of reclaiming the company in Venezuela. But with the positive ruling in Miami, he said there was a chance of taking back Avior’s investment in GCA Air.

Meanwhile, the two sides continue to fight for control of Avior Airlines in a separate arbitration case at the International Chamber of Commerce in Paris.

Avior Airlines had not responded to ch-aviation’s request for comment at the time of going to press.