BA execs to stand trial on cartel charge

THREE former executives and one current executive at British Airways (BA) are to face criminal court proceedings today after cartel charges were handed to them over fuel price fixing.

Former executives Alan Burnett, Iain Burns and Martin George will stand trial, alongside current BA executive Andrew Crawley, at Southwark Crown Court, where they are expected to plead “not guilty”.

Today’s trial marks the first time individuals charged with criminal cartel activity will testify in front of a jury.

“This case is different because the four will plead ‘not guilty’ and it will be the first time that a jury will hear the testimonies. In cases like this, the individual faces the risk of going to jail,” said Simon Barnes, a lawyer at Lovells.

Should the four BA executives be found guilty of criminal cartel offences, each could face up to five years in prison.

In 2007, BA was fined £121.5m by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) in connection to a price fixing scheme between BA and rival airline Virgin Atlantic over long haul fuel surcharges.

Virgin Atlantic brought the scheme to the attention of the OFT and under the watchdog’s “leniency arrangements” walked away without paying a fine.

The trial is expected to take three months to complete, with some law makers calling it an “important test of the OFT’s ability to bring criminal prosecutions”.

This marks the second prosecution under the criminal cartel offence, with the first in 2008 when three British businessmen connected to the marine hose industry were found guilty of cartel activity and sentenced to serve prison terms.

Crawley is the current sales and marketing director at BA. Burns and George, however, resigned from the commercial airline in 2006, the same year that Burnett retired.

BA declined to comment.