LONDON — Billionaire Richard Branson has been slammed by Ryanair’s boss for trying to “fleece” British taxpayers.
The tycoon demanded a £500million loan to keep his Virgin Atlantic airline afloat during the coronavirus lockdown.
Sir Richard also put airline staff on unpaid leave after hundreds of flights were grounded.
Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary said Branson – worth an estimated £3.8 billion – can “bail himself out”.
He told Sky News: “Virgin Atlantic is ridiculous.
“But this is Branson’s second go at trying to fleece the British taxpayer for state aid.
“He tried it with Flybe, which was owned by Delta, himself and a New York venture capitalist company.
“Now you have Virgin Atlantic, owned by Delta and a Caribbean based non-resident billionaire. Frankly, if he’s worried about Virgin he should write the cheque himself”
He went on: “It’s not like he’s short of money. You know his Virgin Galatic investment is worth about £1.3 billion today.
“So sitting in the Virgin Islands as a tax exile, asking the British government to bail you out, when you have more than sufficient resources to bail out Virgin Atlantic yourself is not something I believe that should be considered.”
In January, the government bailed out Flybe to keep the failing airline from going bust.
Mr O’Leary’s fury comes as a petition to strip the entrepreneur of his knighthood has gathered nearly 30,000 signatures.
The Change.org campaign branded the Branson a “disgrace” and claim he has not paid personal income tax for 14 years.
The page also makes reference to an incident in which the NHS paid an undisclosed settlement to Virgin Care after the threat of legal action in 2017.
In an open letter to staff, posted on Twitter on Monday, Branson revealed he was prepared to put his private Caribbean island, Necker, up for collateral to save the business.
But people were quick to point out that 49 per cent of Necker island is owned by US airline Delta.
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