THE OFFICE of Fair Trading is examining emails sent by British Airways employees before interviewing senior staff at the carrier in the next few days over alleged price fixing on fuel surcharges.
The OFT is understood to want to interview Willie Walsh, BA's chief, and other members of the airline's higher echelons.
The OFT is sifting through thousands of emails, searching for key words. The OFT wants to see if the BA executives' statements in interviews agree with what they wrote.
BA sent an email to all its staff on Thursday telling them not to delete any emails. This was the same day Britain's flagship carrier stunned the market by announcing it was the subject of an investigation by the OFT and the US Department of Justice over "alleged cartel activity''.
BA has put two senior staff, Martin George, the commercial director, and Iain Burns, head of communications, on leave. It is not clear if the two have hired independent legal counsel. BA refused to comment yesterday on whether Mr Walsh would be interviewed shortly. Sources said investigators were keen to establish "what he knew and when he knew it''.
Investigators are also expected to want to speak to Sir Rod Eddington, Mr Walsh's predecessor. Sir Rod, now the "blue skies'' thinker for the Department of Transport, is likely to be questioned because he was chief executive when BA allegedly attempted to co-ordinate with other airlines over how much to charge passengers for the extra cost of fuel, caused by rising oil prices.
Another person the OFT and DoJ is thought to be interested in talking to is Andrew Cahn, director of government and industry affairs at BA from May 2000. He left BA and became chief executive of UK Trade & Investment, a government organisation which promotes international trade, in March.
American Airlines has received a subpoena from the DoJ but said it was not the subject of the investigation. Sources said authorities on both sides of the Atlantic would want to speak to BA employees who have been closely involved in relations with American, who include Mr Cahn.
A Department of Transport said Sir Rod "had not heard from the OFT or US authorities''. Mr Cahn could not be reached. BA and American attempted a merger in the 1990s but it fell apart due to regulators' concerns.
It emerged on Friday that BA's arch rival, Virgin Atlantic, tipped off authorities - which were already looking at airlines' cargo pricing - about alleged fuel price fixing.
Virgin has received immunity from prosecution both in the UK and US in return for the information. It is not immune from class actions.
Sources said one reason for BA's predicament is that it has scaled back its lobbying in Washington after failing to buy American.
In contrast, Virgin uses the respected Washington law firm Wilma, Cutler & Pickering. Jeff Shane, deputy secretary at the US Department of Transportation, used to be Virgin's legal adviser.