Phil Wyatt, former boss of XL Leisure Group, and co-defendants Magnus Stephensen and Halldor Sigurdarson were found liable for a £1.4 million claim brought by Goldtrail Travel liquidator PwC yesterday.
The High Court found Wyatt, Stephensen and Sigurdarson participated in a deal with Goldtrail that was “thoroughly dishonest” and gave “dishonest assistance” to Goldtrail owner Abdulkadir Aydin.
Turkish carrier Onur Air liable was also judged to have dishonestly assisted Aydin and found liable for a £3.64 million claim.
In her ruling, Justice Rose found “abundant evidence” that Wyatt, Stephensen and Sigurdarson “were fully aware they were involved in a transaction that was thoroughly dishonest”.
The Court agreed a stay of execution of the judgment while the defendants decide whether to appeal, but awarded costs against them which could come close to £2 million.
Wyatt, Stephenson and Sigurdarson were ordered to pay £430,000 on account and Onur Air to pay £450,000.
Tour operator Goldtrail Travel went into administration in July 2010, at a cost of £25 million to the Air Travel Trust fund and leaving creditors owed £33 million.
Goldtrail owner Aydin did not appear at the High Court. He is reported to be in the Ukraine after transferring more than £10 million to himself and his family in the weeks leading up to the failure.
Liquidator PwC brought a double claim seeking the sums awarded – £3.64 million from Onur Air and £1.4 million from Wyatt, Stephensen, Sigurdarson, and Wyatt’s investment vehicle Black Pearl Investments (BPI).
Counsel for PwC presented evidence that the defendants paid substantial amounts to Aydin in the weeks before the failure and argued the payments involved the “misapplication” and “misuse” of deposits for flights. Justice Rose agreed.
In her judgment, she referred to “sham documents”, a “fictitious brokerage agreement” and “bogus seat sale agreement” made by Wyatt and his co-defendants, and found “the defendants were fully aware that the Black Pearl deal was dishonest”.
Justice Rose found: “Onur Air was dishonest in the assistance it gave Mr Aydin in misapplying Goldtrail’s money.”
Her judgment noted: “Part of the dishonest assistance provided by these defendants involved their assisting Mr Aydin in disguising the true terms of the…deals from the CAA.”
Counsel for Wyatt, Stephensen and Sigurdarson sought to delay an application for costs.
Opposing the request, PwC counsel Hilary Stonefrost argued the defendants had “unreasonably contested a number of key allegations … They put forward a false defence … They fabricated evidence.” Stonefrost told the Court: “We found much of their evidence was unreliable.”
The Judge refused the delay, along with Stonefrost’s request for a higher rate of increase on payments by the defendants, but noted the evidence given by Wyatt, Stephensen and Sigurdarson “must be treated with considerable caution and I find much of it unreliable”.
Goldtrail liquidator and PwC director Ian Oakley-Smith said: “I am delighted the creditors of Goldtrail should now see an increased return as a result of the defendants having to repay monies relating to their part in the dishonest scheme entered into by Goldtrail’s director.”
Lawyers for the defendants have three weeks to make written submissions outlining any grounds for appeal.
Wyatt was chief executive of XL Leisure when the group failed in 2008. He, Stephenson and Sigurdarson have subsequently been involved with a string of travel companies – including Viking Airlines and Meridian Aviation – that have failed.
Sourced from Travel Weekly