AirAsia has announced that both its CEO and chairman will step down from their roles temporarily amidst claims they accepted a bribe from Airbus in return for an aircraft order.
The UK’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) is alleging Airbus bribed two AirAsia executives – understood to be Tony Fernandes (pictured above, left) and Kamarudin Meranun (pictured above, right) – to the tune of US$50 million ($74.3 million) to sponsor a sports team jointly owned by both men.
It’s claimed the payment was in exchange for AirAsia placing an order of 180 aircraft with Airbus, with the order later adjusted to 135 jets.
Both Malaysian and Sri Lankan authorities are reportedly investigating the damning allegations.
The allegations surfaced after Airbus agreed to a deferred prosecution agreement with regulators in the UK, France and the US, and has agreed to pay a fine of €3.6 billion ($5.9 billion).
AirAsia said Fernandes and Meranun will relinquish their roles as CEO and chairman respectively for a period of two months “or such other period that the company may deem fit”.
The airline said in a separate statement it was “neither involved in any way whatsoever with the SFO’s investigation of Airbus nor given any opportunity to provide any information or clarification to the SFO”.
AirAsia also hit back at claims its Airbus aircraft order was improperly linked to the sponsorship of a sports team jointly owned by executives at the airline.
“AirAsia vigorously rejects and denies any and all allegations of wrongdoing,” it said.
“The entering into of each aircraft purchase agreement was never made by any single individual decision, but instead arrived at through careful evaluation, deliberation and the collective decision of the board members after taking into account technical specifications, aircraft flight performance and operating economics.
“The superiority and reliability of the aircraft and increasingly attractive pricing being offered to maintain our competitive edge in the airline business were key considerations.
“As a customer of Airbus since 2005, AirAsia never made purchase decisions that were premised on an Airbus sponsorship.”
AirAsia said all negotiations and dealings leading to the signing of any aircraft purchase agreement have been undertaken directly with Airbus “on an arm’s length basis” and without the involvement of any third parties or intermediaries.
“AirAsia executives negotiated rigorously in the interests of the company and had at all times acted in good faith,” the airline stated.
“In any event, AirAsia is aware that correspondence between the company and Airbus dating back more than a decade has been reported in the press without proper context or review, and we are concerned that views and opinions on the matter may have been formed unfairly and prematurely.
“Furthermore, the involvement of Airbus in the sponsorship of the sports team was a well-known and widely-publicised matter bringing branding and other benefits to Airbus.
“AirAsia’s own sponsorship of the sports team went through due internal assessment and approvals before being considered and approved by the board.”
AirAsia said it was “deeply concerned” that the allegations will have an adverse and negative impact on its brand, reputation and goodwill.
“AirAsia is monitoring developments in this matter and will review any allegations or negative inferences concerning or affecting AirAsia and/or any of its executives, and will fully cooperate with the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission and the relevant authorities where required,” it said.