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EasyJet founder threatens to sue executives over £4.5 billion Airbus deal

By Thomas Hornall, PA

EasyJet’s founder has threatened to personally sue executives at the firm if it spends “a penny” on a £4.5 billion order with plane manufacturer Airbus and fails to repay its £600 million Government loan on time.

Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou renewed his demands on Wednesday for the company to remove chief finance officer Andrew Findlay to “stop him from signing any more billion-pound cheques to Airbus every year”.

Sir Stelios – who holds the biggest stake in the carrier – issued a second call for a meeting of the company’s shareholders to vote on removing Mr Findlay and another director, Andreas Bierwirth.

In a statement, he said: “Unless this vote of all shareholders is called without any further delay, I will request that more directors be removed.”

Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, the founder of easyJet (Chris Radburn/PA)

EasyJet, which rejected his request for a shareholder meeting on Friday, has grounded all of its 330 planes as demand for flights collapsed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Sir Stelios, who has warned the company would run out of money by “around August” if it does not cancel the Airbus order, has previously said the airline would not need Government loans if it terminates the contract.

He also stressed he will not invest any more cash into the airline while the contract with the plane manufacturer is in place.

The statement from Sir Stelios continued: “We must stop this river of money from the Bank of England via Luton Airport to Toulouse where Airbus is based.

“This is a misuse of UK taxpayers’ money.

“If the French government wants to spare Airbus from the cost of aircraft order cancellations, so they can keep French people in jobs, then they must give such support as French state aid and not expect a British airline to foot the bill.”

He added that he would “personally sue” executives for a “breach of their fiduciary duties” if they spend “a penny” on the Airbus order while defaulting on other financial obligations.

EasyJet said in a statement its board “fully supports” Mr Findlay.

The £600 million fund is from the UK’s Covid Corporate Financing Facility (CCFF) to help firms during the pandemic. It is due to be repaid next March.

It is understood EasyJet still considers the CCFF the right course of action and that the firm is in talks with suppliers and partners to reduce its costs.

The airline also announced that it will borrow a further 500 million US dollars (£406 million) from commercial creditors as part of its “focus on maximising liquidity”.

An easyJet spokesman said: “The board is managing the unprecedented challenges facing the aviation sector to ensure the long-term future of the airline.

“We remain absolutely focused on removing expenditure from the business, engaging with all of our business partners and suppliers including Airbus, and on safeguarding jobs and short-term liquidity.

“The board fully supports Andrew Findlay, easyJet’s CFO, and stands by its collective decision to access the CCFF which was made in the best interests of the company.

“We continue to believe that holding a general meeting would be an unhelpful distraction from tackling the many immediate issues our business faces.”