Cleary on board to tackle Ryanair Competition Commission ruling

Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton has waded back into the fray for Ryanair after the airline was told to slash its stake in rival Aer Lingus to 5 per cent by the UK Competition Commission (CC).

The airline’s latest bid to takeover its Irish rival was scuppered by the UK’s antitrust watchdog who concluded Ryanair’s 29.8 per cent stake was a threat to competition on air routes between the UK and Ireland. Ryanair plan to appeal to decision.

The bid was referred to the CC in June 2012 by the Office of Fair Trading, which cited market concerns about the deal (19 June 2012).

Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary slammed the CC, stating: “The report by the UKCC is bizarre and manifestly wrong but also entirely expected.”

O’Leary said that the investigation into Ryanair’s stake in Aer Lingus was “manifestly unfair” and that the company’s lawyers would lodge an appeal with the Competition Appeal Tribunal (CAT) in the coming weeks.

Cleary competition partner Nicholas Levy is advising the low-cost airline on the appeal with associates Paul Gilbert and Ricardo Zimbron, instructing Blackstone Chambers’ David Pannick QC and Brian Kennelly.

Levy has led on several of the company’s attempted swipes for the remaining 70 per cent of Aer Lingus since 2006, but its attempts have been squashed each time.

Leading the battle for Aer Lingus is Cadwalader Brussels managing partner Alec Burnside. He said: “Ryanair’s 29.82 per cent shareholding has been used as a Trojan horse against Aer Lingus for the last seven years since the original 2006 bid. It has been the platform for Ryanair’s failed rebids for Aer Lingus in 2008 and 2012.”

He continued: “Ever since Ryanair’s first hostile bid in September 2006, we’ve seen them come and go with the different law firms that Ryanair have tried but none have cracked the bid yet.”

However, Levy said the company had maintained a stable panel of firms for its antitrust and EU issues and confirmed Ryanair was an “important and valued client”.

Corporate partners Sam Bagot and James Modrall have previously advised Ryanair with Levy on the elements of a takeover and in 2012, Ryanair recruited A& L Goodbody to handle the corporate elements of a bid while regular European litigation counsel Covington & Burling advised on competition elements of their existing stake.

In February, the airline tried to seduce opponents with a new tack – Eversheds put together a provisional agreement with Flybe create an Irish subsidiary who would acquire 43 of the Aer Lingus routes if the Ryanair takeover went through.