Europe-based online travel agency (OTA) Lastminute.com is in the midst of a major restricting following the arrest of its CEO and COO last week. The company is under investigation by authorities in Switzerland regarding the alleged misuse of COVID-19 relief funds.
On Friday, Lastminute.com released a statement saying that five people, including its CEO Fabio Cannavale and COO Andrea Bertoli, were taken in by Swiss authorities “in connection with the investigation for suspicions of fraud…unlawful claim for social insurance or social assistance benefits…and breach of the Swiss Unemployment Insurance Act.” Four, including both Bertoli and Cannavale, remain in custody.
That investigation is looking at abuse of COVID-19 funds by the company’s Swiss subsidiaries—Lastminute.com received a total of around $29 million during the period between March 2020 and February 2022, money that was earmarked for helping to cover wages during the pandemic. Swiss authorities are now investigating whether those funds were misused by the OTA.
While the company has said that it has not done anything wrong and is cooperating with the investigation, both Bertoli and Cannavale were suspended for three months following the news. On Monday it appointed Lauran Amoretti, formerly CCO, as interim CEO, filling in for Cannavale after the arrest.
“We are confident that management behaved respectfully vis-à-vis institutions and employees throughout the dramatic and unprecedented circumstances of the pandemic. The Company will work alongside the Swiss authority to quickly clarify the matters,” said Laurent Foata, chairman of lastminute.com.
Lastminute.com is not the only OTA to be involved in a court case this year. Earlier this year, online hotel booking platform Trivago was fined $44.7 million AUS by Australia’s Federal Court on Monday for mispresenting cheap hotel rates.
According to the court’s decision, which can be read in full here, Trivago “engaged in conduct that was misleading or deceptive or likely to mislead or deceive” the public. Mainly, Trivago claimed that it makes it easy “to find the ideal hotel for the best price” in TV and digital advertisements while simultaneously positioning offers at the top of consumer search that was not the cheapest offer for the hotel room.
Instead, the court said, Trivago displayed offers made by those who were advertising with the company, and those who had paid more per click were rewarded with higher rankings on the search engine.