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Ryanair boss in humbling apology to rival he libeled

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Irish budget airline Ryanair’s Chief Executive Michael O’Leary has agreed to run ads in U.K. newspapers apologizing to easyJet founder Stelios Haji-Ioannou for calling him as Pinocchio.Eric Piermont / AFP - Getty Images file
/ Source: msnbc.com news services

Irish budget airline Ryanair said Thursday it has agreed to pay libel damages to the founder of rival carrier easyJet for falsely accusing him of suppressing reports about the company's performance.

Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou sued Ryanair because of ads which accused him of stopping publication of weekly reports on easyJet's on-time performance. One ad, which showed Stelios with a long nose and depicting him as Pinocchio, called on him to "stop hiding the truth."

Stelios was no longer in management at easyJet, but was a non-executive director and major shareholder.

When Stelios protested, Ryanair ran more ads proposing to settle the issue by a sumo wrestling match or a foot race, and calling Stelios a "chicken."

The ads were published in The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian and on Ryanair's website in January and February.

Chris Scott, a lawyer representing Stelios, said in court that Ryanair and its chief executive, Michael O'Leary, accepted that Stelios did not lie, had unreservedly apologized and agreed to pay damages and his legal costs.

"This was an unpleasant personal attack on me by a large public company, made worse by the way O'Leary responded to the legal complaints," Stelios said in a statement. He was not in court Thursday.

Stelios' representatives said Ryanair had offered 50,100 pounds ($64,200), which Stelios had accepted and would donate to his philanthropic foundation.