BA raided again in 'price-fixing' inquiry

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The Independent Online

Investigators from the FBI and the European Commission raided British Airways offices for the second day running yesterday, searching for the smoking gun that would prove a price-fixing conspiracy in the £30bn cargo industry.

Cyber sleuths are scanning thousands of e-mail messages and other documents stored on computers at BA headquarters in New York and London.

Watchdogs including the EC and the US Justice Department allege that the world's major airlines have been keeping cargo costs high by overcharging for fuel and insurance. Central to the inquiry is the suspicion that the airlines have exploited the "war on terror" by imposing high fees for insurance after the 9/11 attacks.

It is understood BA has had a passenger and cargo surcharge to help offset increased security costs since 9/11. Industry trade groups insist that aviation remains a highly competitive field.

It is not yet clear how much money is at stake, but investigators seem to believe that every time a plane takes off anywhere in the world, someone has been overcharged in ways that break the law.

Authorities made unannounced visits yesterday to airline offices in Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong. Marc Boudier, the executive vice president of Air France Cargo, described the inquiry as "a very heavy procedure".

BA had no comment, beyond repeating its desire to "assist the authorities" in the hunt for documentation. In the US, American Airlines and United Airlines said they had also been asked to provide information.

Despite news of the investigation, BA shares closed up 11p at 334.5p in a mostly flat market.