British Airways bosses on trial for price-fixing

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Four senior British Airways (BA) executives went on trial Monday over accusations of price-fixing after an alleged secret deal with rival airline Virgin Atlantic.

The four are charged with dishonestly agreeing with three Virgin Atlantic bosses to fix the price of fuel surcharges between 2004 and 2006, an arrangement which could have yielded big clandestine profits.

Prosecutor Richard Latham said three Virgin Atlantic executives had blown the whistle on the alleged deal and would now be giving evidence for the prosecution.

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.

Latham is prosecuting on behalf of the Office of Fair Trading, Britain's consumer protection watchdog, which brought the case.

"No one complains because no one knew what was going on," the lawyer told Southwark Crown Court in central London. "But every single purchaser is a victim."

Referring to the Virgin Atlantic executives who are due to testify in return for immunity from prosecution, he added: "The situation may arise where the defendants are little more culpable than the prosecution witnesses.

"But if Virgin executives had not admitted their participation in price-fixing with British Airways, the illicit activities would almost certainly have remained hidden to this very day."

© 2010 AFP

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