Ryanair, O'Leary Settle Lawsuit by EasyJet's Founder Stelios Haji-Ioannou

Ryanair Holdings Plc and Michael O’Leary, its chief executive officer, apologized to the founder of rival EasyJet Plc and agreed to pay about 50,000 pounds ($77,000) to settle a lawsuit over an advertisement that likened him to Pinocchio.

At a hearing today at the High Court in London, lawyers for O’Leary withdrew allegations made against Stelios Haji-Ioannou, who prefers to go by Stelios, in a series of advertisements.

In a half-page advertisement in the Daily Telegraph today, O’Leary and Ryanair apologized “unreservedly” for tagging a photograph of Stelios as “Easyjet’s-Mr. Late Again” in a prior advertisement carried in the newspaper.

“It is not very often that someone as arrogant and as powerful as O’Leary is forced to apologize to someone else in public,” Stelios said in an e-mailed statement. “I took this legal action to protect my reputation. I am not a liar and that statement was libelous.”

The contested ads, published in January and February, said EasyJet hadn’t published its on-time flight statistics for 37 weeks and showed a picture of Stelios with his nose elongated like the character Pinocchio, Stelios’s lawyer Chris Scott said at the hearing today.

When Stelios asked for an apology Ryanair refused and said the dispute should be settled with a sumo wrestling contest or a race around London’s Trafalgar Square, Scott said, reading a joint statement signed by both Stelios’s and Ryanair’s lawyers.

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At the time of the ad’s publication, Stelios was a non- executive director of EasyJet, Scott said. The apology relates to the personal allegations made against Stelios in the advertisements, he said.

“Both Michael O’Leary and Ryanair accept that Sir Stelios is not in any way responsible for EasyJet’s management’s continuing failure to publish weekly details of their on-time stats,” Scott said.

Stelios said the money will be donated to charity.

“I would like to dedicate this little victory to all those members of the travelling public who have suffered verbal abuse and hidden extras at the hands of O’Leary,” Stelios said.

Ryanair said in its own statement the settlement with Stelios won’t stop it from pushing EasyJet to publish performance statistics.

“Ryanair believes they have been hiding these details since May 2009 because they know they can’t compete with Ryanair’s punctuality, just the same way EasyJet can’t compete with our pricing,” the airline said.

The case is: Haji-Ioannou v. O’Leary, High Court of Justice Queens Bench Division, No. HQ10X00565.

To contact the reporters responsible for this story: James Lumley in London at jlumley1@bloomberg.net.

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