BAE Systems is preparing to defend itself against accusations of conspiracy to defraud an Italian investor group of £6 million ($9.3 million) over its involvement with collapsed British Airways franchise operator National Jet Italia.

In a claim lodged with the High Court in London, Italian finance house ABM alleges that BAE and Aviation Partners Worldwide (APW, formerly Tolmount), the latter owned by the late Peter Sutch, former Cathay Pacific chief executive, conspired to mislead it over APW's acquisition in July 2001 of National Jet Italia.

Both defendants have said they will oppose the charges, but have declined to comment any further.

ABM says that it agreed to invest £6 million in APW to give it the cash to buy National Jet Italia, but only if another investor was found to provide another £7 million. BAE, it alleges, put up this money, but only on the basis that it would receive the money back from National Jet Italia after the takeover, as a deposit on four regional jets which the airline would buy at an inflated price.

The takeover went ahead; BAE received its deposit; and the airline, hit by a cash shortage and the post-11 September crisis, ceased operations last November, after being sold for £575,000 - a fraction of the £30 million that was paid for it earlier that year.

Source: Flight International