12 May 2010 | Andy Allen
The trial of three former British Airways executives and one current employee on price-fixing charges has collapsed after the discovery of a huge amount of previously undisclosed evidence.
The prosecution of the men, who were accused of agreeing with Virgin Atlantic to fix fuel surcharge prices between 2004 and 2006, was abandoned after more than 70,000 emails surfaced which had not been disclosed to the defence.
The case was of concern to buyers of business travel because it has implication for their costs.
The Office of Fair Trading (OFT), which had tried to bring the price-fixing trial, is now pursuing a £121.5 million fine in a civil claim against BA, according to a report in today’s Daily Telegraph following an interview with OFT chief executive John Fingleton.
Virgin Atlantic had escaped prosecution in the case because it acted as whistle-blower. However, the OFT said it is considering taking action against the company, founded by Sir Richard Branson.
In a statement it said: “The OFT will be reviewing the role played by Virgin Atlantic and its advisers in light of the airline’s obligations to provide the OFT with continuous and complete cooperation. This may have potential consequences for Virgin’s immunity from penalties.”
The OFT will also review its dealings with whistle-blowers seeking immunity in the future. It is already investigating claims Virgin Atlantic conspired with Cathay Pacific to fix prices on flights between London and Hong Kong. In that instance Cathay Pacific acted as whistle-blower and consequently gained immunity from prosecution.