BA, Virgin bosses 'talked price-fixing at cricket game'

27th April 2010, Comments 0 comments

Bosses from British Airways and Virgin Atlantic secretly discussed an illegal price-fixing deal during a cricket match at Virgin boss Richard Branson's country estate, prosecutors said Tuesday.

Four top British Airways (BA) executives are on trial facing a cartel charge alleging they agreed with three Virgin Atlantic bosses to fix the price of airline fuel surcharges between 2004 and 2006.

Any such deal could have yielded higher profits for both airlines.

Prosecutor Richard Latham said Branson wanted Virgin's then commercial director William Boulter to "sound out" a BA contact at the September 2005 match between the two airlines to see if BA would follow Virgin if it raised surcharges.

Two days after the match at Branson's home near Oxford, southern England, Virgin increased its fuel surcharge from 24 pounds (28 euros, 45 dollars) to 30 pounds each way, Latham said, while BA allegedly followed suit two days later.

Virgin's director of corporate affairs, Paul Moore, later warned staff at the airline not to release publicity shots of the cricket match to the press, Latham said.

The court heard that, in response to an internal email asking about the photographs, Moore wrote: "Please don't put anything up on the intranet!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

"If BA follow our surcharge it might not look too clever to show us fraternising two days before."

BA's sales and marketing director Andrew Crawley, 43, ex-communications chief Iain Burns, 51, Alan Burnett, 63, who led sales in Britain and Ireland and one-time commercial director Martin George, 47, all deny a cartel charge under the Enterprise Act 2002.

Three Virgin Atlantic executives have been granted immunity from prosecution in return for giving evidence for the prosecution in the trial.

The case at Southwark Crown Court in central London is being brought by the Office of Fair Trading, Britain's consumer protection watchdog.

© 2010 AFP

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