EasyJet founder seeks to oust directors over Airbus plane order

LONDON (Reuters) - EasyJet's EZJ.L founder Stelios Haji-Ioannou demanded on Wednesday a shareholder vote to remove two directors, as part of his battle to try to force the British airline to cancel an order for 107 Airbus AIR.PA planes.

FILE PHOTO: Easyjet founder Stelios Haji-Ioannou speaks at a media event to celebrate 20 years in business at Luton Airport, southern England, November 10, 2015. REUTERS/Eddie Keogh

Haji-Ioannou, easyJet’s biggest shareholder, says the new jets are useless given the crippling impact of the coronavirus pandemic on air travel and that their 4.5 billion pound ($5.5 billion) price tag threatens the firm’s survival.

He called for two directors including chief financial officer Andrew Findlay to be removed via a shareholder vote, and also voiced his opposition to a 600 million pound loan easyJet has taken out under a UK government scheme.

In a statement, he also threatened legal action against directors if easyJet ends up paying Airbus but was not able to meet its other financial commitments.

“If a penny of easyJet’s monies goes to Airbus whilst easyJet defaults on other future financial obligations (repayment of the UK government loan in March 2021), I will personally make sure that any scoundrels responsible will go to jail for breach of their fiduciary duties,” Haji-Ioannou said.

The airline said it had received notices from UBS Private Banking Nominees and Vidacos Nominees to requisition a general meeting to remove Findlay and non-executive director Andreas Bierwirth.

EasyJet said it understood Haji-Ioannou’s easyGroup was the ultimate beneficial holder of the shares being exercised by those two investment firms, and that it was considering the notices.

But before publishing the formal requisition notices, easyJet said it believed holding a general shareholders’ meeting would be an unhelpful distraction from its focus on managing its finances at a time when it has no revenue and all its planes are grounded.

“We remain absolutely focused on removing expenditure from the business, engaging with all of our business partners and suppliers including Airbus, and on safeguarding jobs and short-term liquidity,” an easyJet spokeswoman said by email.

The airline said accessing the government’s COVID Corporate Finance Facility was in the best interests of the company and Findlay had the board’s full support.

Haji-Ioannou, whose family owns a third of easyJet’s shares and who even before the coronavirus crisis was a critic of easyJet’s strategy to buy more planes, has talked of a 4.5 billion pound payment to Airbus, but a source familiar with the matter said the amount due was significantly less.

Reporting by Sarah Young; additional reporting by Alistair Smout; editing by David Holmes and Mark Potter