AirAsia top executives step aside as Airbus bribery probe widens
05 February 2020
AirAsia chief executive Tony Fernandes and executive chairman Kamarudin Meranun would step aside for at least two months to facilitate a probe by Malaysian authorities into look into allegations that European aerospace giant Airbus paid the company $50 million to secure a plane order.
In a late Monday filing on Malaysia's stock market, the budget carrier said the two top executives would leave their positions immediately.
AirAsia has been pulled into investigations which have seen European planemaker Airbus was fined a record €3.6 billion ($4 billion or £3 billion) to settle the corruption probe by authorities in France, Britain and the United States.
Educated at Epsom College, one of Britain's top fee-paying schools, AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes also co-owns Queens Park Rangers (QPR) football club in the UK.
Fernandes bought AirAsia from the Malaysian government for less than a dollar in 2001. He is now one of the wealthiest men in Malaysia, with a net worth of $530 million, according to the Forbes rich list.
Airbus did not disclose the value of the agreement but analysts have reportedly predicted fines could cost the manufacturer as much as €3bn.
Reports said Britain's Serious Fraud Office (SFO) probing the corruption charges allegedly implicated two executives of AirAsia as the probe widened.
The airline's board formed a committee to review the allegations and said both men would stand down "for a period of two months or such other period that the company may deem fit."
Kamarudin and Fernandes would be kept as company advisors and redesignated as non-independent non-executive board members for the period, the airline stated.
SFO's website cites a court document which states that EADS France SAS (which was later renamed as Airbus Group SAS) paid $50 million as sponsorship for a sports team owned by two unnamed AirAsia executives.
The two, identified as "key decision makers" in AirAsia and its long-haul arm AirAsia X, were allegedly rewarded for the order for 180 aircraft from Airbus.
"The payments to the sports team were intended to secure or reward improper favour by them in respect of that business," the document said.
In a joint statement issued on Monday, both Kamarudin and Fernandes denied any wrongdoing and said they "would not harm the very companies that we spent our entire lives building up to their present global status."
AirAsia had earlier refuted the findings of SFO's Airbus investigation. Also, the airline said it was not given an opportunity to present its position to the fraud investigator office.
Malaysia's anti-corruption commission (MACC) said on Saturday it was empowered to investigate any act of corruption committed by citizens or permanent residents anywhere outside the country and that it is already is in touch with the UK authorities.