A jet owned by Sports Direct billionaire Mike Ashley made over 90 flights to some of the world’s most desirable holiday destinations as taxpayers forked out tens of millions to pay his shop staff wages.
The Newcastle United owner’s Dassault Falcon 7X clocked up 145,000 miles in just 12 months, landing at 34 destinations in 15 countries since June 1, 2020.
They included the Maldives, Dubai, Portugal, Miami and Orlando in Florida, Crete, Mykonos and Zakynthos in Greece, as well as Majorca and Ibiza. While the public have been tightly restricted, essential business travel has been allowed throughout the pandemic.
The £38 million aircraft, which its manufacturer says ‘handles like a fighter jet’ and travels near the speed of sound, also made multiple trips to and from London Luton even after Boris Johnson announced a third lockdown from January 6. Fresh from a number of flights to and from the Maldives in December, the jet flew from Luton to Dubai five times in January and February.
It subsequently flew to other destinations from Luton and Farnborough throughout February and March, including Dubai, Nassau in the Bahamas and Pisa in Italy, before landing in Miami on March 25 – where Mr Ashley owns a £32 million mansion. Government data reveals that Sports Direct was handed more than £5 million a month in January and February this year to pay staff wages, with further sums given to staff in other parts of his retail empire to keep the business going.
It is unclear exactly which of the 90 flights Mr Ashley or his business associates were aboard, if any. But he has previously been unabashed about his transport preferences.
In 2016, he told the BBC: ‘I don’t get paid a salary but what I do like to do is go by private plane. And I do like to go by private plane because it saves a lot of time and it’s very efficient.’ In the same interview he described himself as a ‘PR nightmare’. The jet can travel almost 7,000 miles in a single trip and fly at more than 650mph. It can reach Dubai from the UK in six-and-a-half hours and New York in seven hours.