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Trial opens of four accused of price-fixing at BA

The trial of four former and current British Airways executives for alleged price fixing started at Southwark Crown Court in London yesterday.

The airline paid out £270m in fines in August 2007 after admitting colluding with Virgin Atlantic over fuel surcharging between July 2004 and April 2006. But the Office of Fair Trading (OFT), which conducted the investigation, is also pursuing four employees on criminal charges.

The defendants are Andrew Crawley, BA's sales and marketing director; Iain Burns, the former head of communications; Alan Burnett, the former head of sales in the UK and Ireland; and Martin George, the former commercial director. Mr Burns, Mr Burnett and Mr George left BA in 2006.

All four deny the charges of cartel offences. If convicted they face up to five years in prison or an unlimited fine.

Richard Latham QC, prosecuting counsel, told the court yesterday that the defendants met with counterparts at Virgin Atlantic "to make and implement agreements which would lead, and which in fact did lead, to price fixing". "No one complains because no one knew what was going on, but every single purchaser is a victim," he said.

Three Virgin Atlantic executives – Paul Moore, William Boulter and Steve Ridgway – are also implicated in the case. But they are exempt from prosecution under OFT leniency rules which offer immunity in return for reports of participation in cartels. The three are expected to give evidence in the trial.

The OFT launched a separate investigation into alleged price-fixing on the London to Hong Kong route by Virgin Atlantic and Cathay Pacific last week after the Hong Kong carrier came forward to the OFT. Virgin Atlantic robustly denies the allegations.