The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has withdrawn its criminal proceedings against four current and former British Airways (BA) executives accused of fixing the price of fuel surcharges on long haul passenger flights with Virgin Atlantic (Virgin). The decision follows the recent disclosure of a substantial amount of electronic documentation including emails sent or received by one of Virgin’s former employees, who was due to be a witness in the trial. The failure to disclose the documents earlier has been described as an “oversight”. It is unclear whether the documents contained evidence which would substantially affect the trial. In any event, the OFT took the view that to continue with the trial in view of the late disclosure of the information would be unfair to the defendants. Having accepted its role in this unexpected development, the OFT has also indicated that it will consider whether Virgin Atlantic had any role to play in the omission. If so, the Commission will assess whether this has any implications for its immunity status under the Commission’s cartel leniency decision. The collapse of the case is likely to be a major disappointment for the competition authority as it was the first contested criminal prosecution brought by the OFT under the Enterprise Act cartel offence.

OFT press release

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