The founder of easyJet is offering to dip into his pocket by offering a £5m “reward” for information that triggers the cancellation of a controversial £4.5bn Airbus order.
Sky News understands that Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, who launched the low-cost carrier in 1995, will announce on Tuesday that he will pay the sum to a “whistleblower” if more than 100 new aircraft are ditched – a move he insists is essential to the company surviving the coronavirus crisis.
Sir Stelios has mounted an increasingly vocal campaign in recent weeks with the objective of seeing the Airbus order cancelled, calling easyJet’s directors “scoundrels” and describing the Toulouse-based plane manufacturer “the masters of bribery”.
EasyJet has described the billionaire’s efforts as ill-conceived, and has agreed only to defer the delivery of some of the new planes.
In a statement to be released later, Sir Stelios will ask for information to be emailed to him “in full confidence” by any past or current easyJet or Airbus employee – or any supplier to the airline with inside information.
“As the overwhelming evidence is that easyJet requires neither more loss-making planes nor massive liabilities, we need to establish why easyJet directors still want to pursue this route,” he will say.
Sir Stelios will say that he is willing “to make stage payments for engaging with any whistleblowers of, say, around £10,000 for some quick wins/tips and will pay more to maintain the dialogue”.
He will also guarantee to pay any informant’s legal bills, and will pledge full payment of the £5m “once the Airbus-easyJet contract is cancelled after it has been proven as a result of the information given by the whistleblower that Airbus secured the orders using their bribery techniques”.
“We are looking for small tips, anything from lavish entertainment at the Paris Air Show up to the equivalent of the QPR sponsorship fee,” he will add.
“Any unexplained wealth and or any ostentatious spending by easyJet employees could also give us a hint.”
The easyJet founder’s latest intervention is likely to stoke anger inside the Luton-based carrier, which has furloughed thousands of staff and borrowed £600m under a government-backed financing scheme.
Sir Stelios and his family hold 34% of easyJet’s shares.
He is seeking the removal of its chairman, John Barton, and chief executive Johan Lundgren – along with two other directors – at an extraordinary general meeting later this month.
However, he has accused the board of “[riding] roughshod over the rights of excluded shareholders” because it does not permit investors to attend in person.
The government’s ban on mass gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic has forced companies to cancel physical shareholder meetings.
Sir Stelios’s campaign, the latest in a series of disputes he has had since stepping down as a director, comes amid bleak predictions for the recovery of international air travel.
Last month, British Airways confirmed it was launching a consultation that would put 12,000 staff at risk of redundancy, while Ryanair and Virgin Atlantic Airways have also announced plans to axe roughly 3000 jobs apiece.
At the weekend, Sky News revealed that Virgin Atlantic had placed Alvarez & Marsal on standby to handle an administration process that would form part of a restructuring.
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