United Airlines Chairman and CEO Jeff Smisek stepped down Tuesday afternoon, along with two other executives, in connection with a federal investigation into the New York and New Jersey Port Authority.
There are allegations that United might have set up a special airline route for the Port Authority chairman in exchange for some infrastructure funding during United’s 2010 merger with Continental Airlines.
United says the shakeup is related to an internal investigation connected to the federal probe and that it has been cooperating with the government. United board member Oscar Munoz has been named CEO.
“I can tell you from my experience covering CEO exits that there are two things that will get a CEO ousted: illegal behavior or distraction,” says Marketplace’s Sabri Ben-Achour, who has been following the story. “So we can surmise that their internal investigation shows either something illegal, possibly even indictments, or something that just looks very bad. Either way corporations don’t have time for that.”
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