FreshAer chief executive barred as director in UK


The chief executive of FreshAer, the British company planning to launch budget flights from the Republic next October, has a conviction for fraud and is barred from acting as a company director in the UK until 2009.

In October 1999, Snaresbrook Crown Court in London convicted Mr John Lepp, whose full name is Mr John Ditchfield-Lepp, on two counts of trading with intent to defraud creditors. He was sentenced to 12 months in prison and disqualified from acting as a company director until October 2009.

A FreshAer spokeswoman yesterday confirmed that Mr John Ditchfield-Lepp was the company's chief executive and that he had been barred from acting as a director for 10 years from 1999.

UK Companies House records show he was disqualified under section 2 of the English Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986. This provides that UK courts can disqualify someone from acting as a director where they have been convicted of an indictable offence under company law. The maximum ban is 15 years.

Yesterday, Snaresbrook Crown Court confirmed that, in October 1999, a Mr John Ditchfield-Lepp, who at that time had an address in Hertfordshire, England, was convicted on two counts of trading with intent to defraud creditors after pleading guilty to the offence. He was tried along with three others, two of whom were cleared. The fourth man also pleaded guilty and was given a community service order and disqualified from acting as a director for five years.

The court did not have the name of the company involved on its records.

FreshAer's spokeswoman pointed out that Mr Lepp was not registered as a director of the company. She said that, as he was a significant shareholder, he was entitled to be chairman and chief executive, but not a director of the company.

A spokesman for the UK Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) told The Irish Times that anyone disqualified from acting as a company director in Britain could not be appointed to such a position, or carry out the duties of a director, for the period of the ban. He added that anyone convicted of acting as a director while they were disqualified could face up to two years in prison.

The Irish Times understands that Mr Lepp holds 34 per cent of the company. He became involved when the project was at an early stage. Company records show that there were three people originally involved in establishing FreshAer.

They were former Aer Lingus employees, Mr Tony Robinson and Mr Danial Higgins, and Mr John Roche, former chief financial officer at the London office of Rosenbluth International, the US business travel company. Mr Higgins and Mr Roche are no longer involved with FreshAer. Mr Robinson is still a director of the company.

FreshAer has been selling flight tickets for destinations in the UK and Spain to Irish people via a website and telephone line for almost two weeks. It has also been running a promotion in conjunction with the Evening Herald newspaper. Flights are due to begin in October.

It is not licensed to operate as an airline or tour operator in this State. The Irish Aviation Authority and the Commission for Aviation Regulation (CAR) are jointly responsible for licensing Irish airlines. Last week, the regulator said FreshAer was acting illegally, and warned that consumers would not be protected by Irish law if they booked its flights.

FreshAer has since applied to the commission for airline and tour operator licences.

Mr Lepp was not available to comment yesterday.