Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary has waded into the row over the UK competition watchdog’s insistence that the carrier should reduce its stake in Aer Lingus from 29.8% to 5%.
The low-cost airline’s chief executive called on Simon Polito, chairman of the Competition and Market Authority’s (CMA) Ryanair/Aer Lingus inquiry group, to correct “false and misleading claims” made in today’s ruling.
Ryanair disputes the CMA’s suggestion that British Airways parent International Airline Group’s bid for Aer Lingus is dependent on securing Ryanair’s agreement to sell its shareholding, or that Ryanair can decide on whether a bid for its major competitor on UK/Irish routes succeeds or fails.
IAG’s offer has already received public acceptances from both the Irish government and Etihad Airways who between them own about 30% of Aer Lingus.
If the IAG offer gets to 50.1%, it is clear that there is nothing Ryanair can do to prevent IAG acquiring control of Aer Lingus, the budget carrier said. No 30% shareholder can block a takeover bid if more than 50% of other shareholders accept it.
O’Leary, who is to appeal the CMA’s ruling, said: “Both Simon Polito and the CMA are attempting to defend the indefensible.
“The sole basis for their 2013 divestment decision was redacted evidence that Ryanair’s minority stake would prevent any other airline making a bid for or acquiring control of Aer Lingus.
“This bid process – which the CMA contended “could not take place” – is now in fact taking place, but Mr Polito and the CMA have again moved the goal posts to argue that Ryanair can somehow block an IAG bid for Aer Lingus from succeeding, when it is patently clear that as a 29% shareholder, Ryanair cannot prevent IAG acquiring control of Aer Lingus.
“Mr Polito should now explain how the CMA can defend this divestment decision when the IAG offer has blown it out of the water.
“He should also withdraw his false claim that a 30% shareholder can block a takeover bid, or decide whether any takeover offer is successful or otherwise.”
Ryanair stressed that its position regarding any proposed IAG offer remains that “Ryanair has not yet received a proposal from IAG for our stake in Aer Lingus, but if and when we do then the board of Ryanair will consider any such proposal on its merits in the best interests of Ryanair’s shareholders”.
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