BA bosses in price-fixing charge

Four current and former British Airways executives have been charged with involvement in fixing the prices of plane fuel surcharges.

BA’s head of sales Andrew Crawley and ex-commercial director Martin George are due to appear before City of London Magistrates Court on 24 September.

Also due up are former communications head Iain Burns and former UK and Ireland sales chief Alan Burnett.

If convicted, the men could face prison sentences of up to five years.

Mr George and Mr Burns resigned from BA in 2006, while Mr Burnett retired in the same year. Mr Crawley remains in his role.

The charges have been brought by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT).

The men are accused of “having dishonestly agreed with others to make or implement arrangements which directly or indirectly fixed the price for the supply in the UK of passenger air transport services by BA and Virgin Atlantic” between July 2004 and April 2006.

In a statement, Mr George said that the allegations were “unfounded”.

“I have denied any wrongdoing from the outset and I remain totally committed to proving my innocence.”

The OFT has already fined BA £121.5m for colluding with Virgin Atlantic on fuel surcharges at least six times between 2004-06.

Under whistle blower protection rules, Virgin was granted UK immunity after bringing the matter to the attention of the OFT.

BA has also been fined $300m (£150m) by the US Department of Justice over the matter, after a guilty plea.

Passengers who travelled on long haul flights with either of the airlines during the relevant period can apply for a refund worth about one-third of the fuel surcharge, via a special website.

BA said that about 11 million passengers had been affected, including about seven million in the UK.

Under competition law, tipping off a rival about a price change is illegal, as is agreeing prices.

Competition between companies is supposed to lead to cheaper goods and services for customers.

Colluding with rivals also goes against what BA describes as its “long-standing, clear and comprehensive competition compliance policy”.

Earlier this year, the airline’s chief executive Willie Walsh said that any anti-competitive behaviour was “to be condemned at BA or at other companies”.

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