Booking.com to repay €65 million in State aid after giving €28 million bonuses to 3 execs
Booking.com said on Friday that it will repay the 65 million euros it received in Dutch State aid, national broadcaster NOS said. Last week it emerged that the Amsterdam-based firm's American holding company paid out the equivalent of 28 million euros in cash and stock bonuses to its top three executives, even though at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic it claimed millions under the NOW support scheme.
"We have closely followed the debate in Dutch society in recent days, we take this very seriously, and we are aware of the sensitivity of this subject," Booking.com wrote in a statement obtained by NOS. “During the pandemic, we made the best possible use of the options available to help Booking.com through the crisis and maintain employment, including relying on the NOW scheme.”
The NOW program was established early in the coronavirus pandemic to help businesses continue to pay salaries and retain their staff. The first round of funding did not include a condition banning bonus payouts, but every subsequent round did carry the provision.
The decision to repay the money came days after members of the Tweede Kamer called for an investigation into the travel giant, which also cut thousands of jobs last year. VVD parliamentarian Thierry Aartsen called them "vultures". Others want to block Booking.com from being able to receive future subsidies or government-backed loans.
"The question of whether we would repay the NOW grants has always been on the table, but for Booking.com it was going to be considered once we got into more stable financial waters,” the company stated on Friday.
Booking.com earned a profit of 4.6 billion euros in 2019.
Last week, Social Affairs Minister Wouter Koolmees told Parliament there was little the government could legally do to force Booking.com to return the money because the bonus provision was not immediately included in the rules. He said it was more important to maintain a consistent government than to apply the bonus rule retroactively and without warning.