AirAsia Group chief Tony Fernandes and chairman Kamarudin Meranun have voluntarily stepped aside from their executive roles, for two months, to allow an independent probe into bribery allegations which emerged during an in-depth investigation at Airbus.
UK court documents detailing an indictment against Airbus, for allegedly failing to prevent bribery, list five counts including one of activity linked to AirAsia.
The Malaysian airline company’s share price sank by nearly 10% as markets opened on 3 February, the first day of trading since Airbus reached a deferred prosecution agreement over the charges on 31 January.
AirAsia has already vehemently denied any wrongdoing, and both Fernandes and Meranun are strongly reiterating this denial – but also state that they are “relinquishing” their executive roles “with immediate effect” for two months, or “such other period that the companies may deem fit”.
They add that this decision is to “facilitate a full and independent investigation by AirAsia”.
Court documents released after the UK Serious Fraud Office probe into Airbus detail allegations that two AirAsia executives – both “key decision makers” at AirAsia and long-haul operation AirAsia X – were “rewarded”, through a sports sponsorship, in respect of an order for 180 aircraft.
Neither of the two executives is identified in the court documents, and there is no indication that either Fernandes or Meranun is among the individuals referenced.
“We categorically deny any and all allegations of wrongdoing or misconduct on our part as directors of AirAsia,” state Fernandes and Meranun.
“We would not harm the very companies that we spent our entire lives building up to their present global status.”
They insist the Airbus deferred prosecution agreement was drawn up “without any reference” to them. “Neither were any explanations sought from us,” they add. “This is in clear violation of fundamental legal principles of fairness.”
Malaysia’s anti-corruption commission is looking into the situation.
Fernandes and Meranun stress that they will co-operate fully with any investigation, and continue to serve in an advisory role to AirAsia.