The founder of easyJet has promised to pay £5 million to any whistleblower who can help him stop the company’s multibillion-pound deal to buy more than 100 new planes.
Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou said he is “willing” to pay the cash out of his own pocket, his latest salvo in a bitter battle with the company’s management.
The Haji-Ioannou family has been using its 34% of the shares in the budget airline to put pressure on top bosses, including chief executive Johan Lundgren.
Sir Stelios wants Mr Lundgren to cancel a £4.5 billion deal to buy 107 planes from European aircraft maker Airbus.
He claims that easyJet “simply cannot afford” the deal.
In a blistering letter, Sir Stelios argued that its obligations to pay for the planes will drive easyJet into insolvency by December this year.
He said that some directors, whom he regards as “scoundrels”, have “over-ordered” planes from Airbus, a company he accused of being “masters of bribery”.
He added: “If the Airbus contract is cancelled, at least there is a good chance a portion of easyJet’s jobs will survive. If the Scoundrels keep paying Airbus and then bankrupt the company, all 15,000 direct easyJet and many more other jobs dependent on easyJet will be lost.”
An easyJet spokesman said: “The board firmly rejects any insinuation that easyJet was involved in any impropriety.”
Sir Stelios said he is willing to pay out to any whistleblower “who provides useful information that leads to the cancellation of the order”.
It is unusual for whistleblowers to be financially rewarded by investors in the company.
However, in the US whistleblowers can be given up to a third of the money that the government recovers in some fraud cases.
The promise from the company’s founder came just over a week before shareholders are set to take a vote that could cost Mr Lundgren his job.
Sir Stelios has called for the chief executive, chairman John Barton, and two non-executives, to be removed from their positions.
Shareholders will vote on his demands next Friday.
The easyJet spokesman added: “Given the significance of the potential transaction, easyJet appointed external independent accountants BDO to carry out an ongoing review of the controls surrounding the fleet selection process which culminated in the 2013 Airbus contract.
“The audit report confirmed that robust procurement, project management and governance processes were in place and had been followed.”