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Ryanair boss slams watchdog over 'false claims' on takeover

By Brian Hutton

Ryanair chief Michael O'Leary has accused the UK's competition watchdog of "false and misleading" claims over a controversial €1.4bn (£1bn) takeover attempt at rival Aer Lingus.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) yesterday issued a "final order" to the no-frills carrier to slash its 30% stake in Aer Lingus to just 5%.

The watchdog claims the holding is anti-competitive and allows Ryanair to "hold sway" over its Irish rival's future. British Airways owner International Airlines Group (IAG) is trying to buy out former national flag carrier Aer Lingus, in a move backed by the Dublin government.

Mr O'Leary said the fact IAG has already bid for the Irish state's 25% shareholding "has blown out of the water" the CMA stance, who he accused of "attempting to defend the indefensible".

He said: "The sole basis for their 2013 divestment decision was that Ryanair's minority stake was or would prevent any other airline making a bid for or acquiring control of Aer Lingus.

"This bid process - which the CMA contended 'could not take place' - is now in fact taking place, but Mr (Simon) Polito and the CMA have again moved the goalposts to argue that Ryanair can somehow block an IAG bid for Aer Lingus from succeeding when it is patently clear that as a 29% shareholder, Ryanair cannot prevent IAG acquiring control of Aer Lingus."

Mr Polito, who headed up the CMA's investigation into the shareholding, insists the IAG bid is dependent on securing Ryanair's agreement to sell its shareholding. "This recent development illustrates that Ryanair can decide whether a bid for its major competitor on UK/Irish routes succeeds or fails," he said.

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