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Fernandes, Kamarudin relinquish executive roles in AirAsia amid corruption probe

KUALA LUMPUR (Feb 3): AirAsia Group Bhd said today that its co-founders Tan Sri Tony Fernandes and Datuk Kamarudin Meranun have relinquished their executive roles in the company effective today, amid a corruption probe by authorities on the company’s executives.

Concurrently, AirAsia has formed a non-executive independent board committee, which comprises non-executive members of the board.

“The committee’s main objective will be to review the allegations therein so far, as it concerns AirAsia Group Bhd, and to take any necessary action based on the review,” AirAsia said in a filing today.

The company also said the duo’s decision to relinquish their executive roles will be effective for two months or “such other period that the company deems fit”.

In the interim, AirAsia has appointed its deputy group chief executive officer (CEO) (airlines) Tharumalingam Kanagalingam as acting CEO, following the committee’s recommendation.

Fernandes and Kamarudin, however, will be retained as advisors of the company during the two-month period, “in view of the current difficult economic circumstances facing the airline industry”.

“As advisors, they will not have executive authority within the group,” the company said.

This means Fernandes, who was chief executive officer cum executive director, has been redesignated as non-executive director, while Kamarudin, who was AirAsia’s executive chairman, is now the company's non-executive chairman.

Last week, AirAsia’s name came up in a UK court judgement for a corruption trial involving aircraft manufacturer Airbus SE, in which Airbus allegedly bribed two unnamed executives — dubbed as “key decision-makers” at AirAsia — with some US$50 million in exchange for purchasing Airbus aircraft.

Airbus allegedly provided the US$50 million in the form of a sponsorship for a sports team owned by the two executives.

Yesterday, AirAsia said it was neither involved “in any way whatsoever” with the UK 's investigation of Airbus, nor given any opportunity to provide any information or clarification to the UK authorities.

The low-cost carrier also highlighted that each aircraft purchase agreement was made after the collective decision of its board members, post taking into account technical specifications, aircraft flight performance and operating economics.

Today, The Edge Financial Daily reported — citing a UK court document — that an email between unnamed Airbus employees showed the purchase of their planes hinged on the sponsorship payment.

Meanwhile, Reuters wrote that the sports team in question was the Caterham F1 racing team, which went defunct in 2014. The team was bought over by Fernandes and Kamarudin in 2011.

Three Malaysian authorities are currently probing the allegations, namely the Securities Commission, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, and the Malaysian Aviation Commission.

Shares of AirAsia and its sister company AirAsia X Bhd slumped to their four-year low after the news broke, adding to the pressure faced by the airliner and the aviation sector at large, following the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak last month.

AirAsia shares lost 15 sen or 10.49% to close at RM1.28 today, trimming its market capitalisation to RM4.28 billion. AirAsia X, meanwhile, fell 1 sen or 7.69% to close at 12 sen, giving it a market capitalisation of RM497.78 million.

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