UK commission to put Ryanair inquiry on hold
THE UK competition commission is to put its investigation into Ryanair’s shareholding in Aer Lingus on hold until a UK appeals court decides on whether it has the right to proceed with its investigation.
Ryanair, Europe’s biggest discount airline, asked a UK appeals court to block an anti-trust regulator’s “unlawful” investigation of its 30 per cent stake in Irish competitor Aer Lingus.
Ryanair, which started a bid last month to buy the rest of Aer Lingus for €694 million, sued to block the commission from investigating the minority stake it acquired six years ago.
The airline said it would overlap with any parallel merger review by the EU, according to a document describing the case posted yesterday on the website of the competition appeal tribunal in London.
The inquiry by the British watchdog is “oppressive and prejudicial to the proper conduct of both investigations” and “is contrary to the public interest”, lawyers for Ryanair told the court, according to the document.
The commission, which said last month it would decide by November 29th on Ryanair’s stake, has put the investigation on hold until the court rules on the matter, said Rory Taylor, a spokesman for the agency.
“There’s nothing in the law that says what exactly should happen in this situation,” Mr Taylor said.
“We’d be looking at the minority share and Europe will be looking at the takeover of the whole company.”
The stake gives Ryanair the ability to weaken Aer Lingus as a competitor and stifle investments from other airlines, the UK office of fair trading, which flagged the issue to the competition commission, said in June. Ryanair is also seeking a court order allowing it to withhold information the competition commission requested for the inquiry, according to the document. Another hearing in the case was scheduled for July 27th.
Ryanair has been fighting with regulators over the stake since it acquired the Aer Lingus shares in 2006 as part of an earlier takeover bid that was ultimately blocked by the EU on competition grounds. A spokesman for Ryanair declined to comment last night. – (Bloomberg)