The world's biggest aeroplane leasing company, General Electric's Gecas division, has been accused in a High Court battle of deliberately rigging an auction of planes worth hundreds of millions of dollars, a claim it denies.
Alexander Lebedev - father of the owner of The Independent, Evgeny Lebedev - is behind the case, which revolves around how GE's plane financing division behaved when it foreclosed on a mortgage for seven planes being run by the Lebedev-backed Blue Wings airline.
As part of its role as lender, GE was obliged to get the best price for the planes, so it could recoup its loan and give the remainder of the proceeds to Lebedev's Alpstream investment business, which owned them.
However, Charles Béar, QC for Alpstream, in which Mr Lebedev is a major shareholder, accused GE of selling the planes to itself at a knockdown price so it could lease them on quickly to a preferred customer, Jet Blue of the US.
Not only that, but Béar claimed GE spent millions of dollars on a lavish refurbishment programme, knowing the money would never be recouped in the sale price.
After the allegedly knockdown sale price and refurbishment programme, there was no money left for Alpstream. Yet GE, Béar claimed, had managed to buy the planes on the cheap, effectively got Alpstream to pay for the refurbishment, and quickly got them earning revenues from Jet Blue.
Béar highlighted the annual employment appraisal for Virginia Fox, one of the top Gecas executives on the deal, which praised her for achieving "remarkable results" in her repossession work.
Quizzing her on her appraisal, Béar said: "But do you agree that the view of Gecas is that, among other situations, you achieved a 'remarkable result' on the Blue Wings repossession?"
Miss Fox, who pointed out she had worked on other deals as well, responded: "The remarkable result is the opinion of my manager."
Béar went on to argue that GE ignored its duty, as the mortgage lender, to achieve the best price, pointing out that in the screeds of emails between Fox and other GE executives behind the deal, there was not one mention of the need to maximise the sale proceeds.
Alpstream claims there were 40 companies who expressed an interest in bidding for the planes, although when the auction took place in London, nobody else bid.
Béar pointed out that an Alpstream executive had personally received an offer for two aircraft, and claimed that GE, and specifically Miss Fox, had ignored it, preferring to press on with selling the job lot to itself.
He said: "You see, Miss Fox, I suggest that you are somebody who has been rated by a $50bn company in an annual appraisal as delivering performance that exceeds expectation, as turning in remarkable results, and that you are a highly intelligent and capable employee and if you chose to ignore it, it wasn't oversight, it was because at the time it didn't fit in with your plan and you weren't going to do anything to explore such a lead."
Miss Fox responded: "So, I think that's an unfair assessment of yours."
She said she did not deliberately ignore potential sales leads. GE and its divisions deny all the claims.
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