OFT probe kicks off panel shake-up at BAA

BAA is set to review its external legal advisers as the airports operator gears up for the likelihood of a major investigation by the Competition Commission.

Legal chief Robert Herga has managed to keep his job despite the £12bn takeover of BAA by Spanish construction group Ferrovial. He told The Lawyer his advisers are “very much in the melting pot”.

“We still haven’t firmed up who’ll be in the final line-up, but our current advisers are not off the radar,” said Herga.

That news will be welcomed by BAA’s longstanding adviser Herbert Smith, which advised the company on its recent takeover but Ferrovial’s merger adviser Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer will be confident of securing both competition and corporate work.

The first instruction up for grabs will be the Competition Commission inquiry if, as expected, the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) refers the case to the regulator. To date the work arising out of the investigation has been handled by BAA’s seven-strong in-house legal function.

BAA chief executive Stephen Nelson last Thursday (31 August) dismissed calls for the breakup of UK airports.

He said: “I fully understand why airlines such as British Airways and Ryanair want to weaken airport operators and achieve greater control over prices and investment at the airports where they hold such powerful positions themselves, but the job of the competition authorities is to protect the longer-term interests of all consumers.”

One senior competition partner said it is highly likely that the OFT will refer the case to the Competition Commission, a prestigious mandate for the firm that secures the work.

In addition to Herbert Smith, BAA also has relationships with Allen & Overy (A&O) and Lovells. The latter has historically handled litigation and property work for the company. A&O advises the company on finance-related matters.