Airbus paying £3bn to end global corruption probes

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US, British and French authorities have approved an unprecedented agreement with Airbus that will see the plane maker pay up to £3 billion to end years of damaging corruption investigations.

All three countries called it the largest global foreign bribery resolution to date, and celebrated their co-operation.

Airbus also welcomed the deal, eager to move on from an embarrassing, costly saga that damaged its reputation and led to management and policy changes.

French national financial prosecutor Jean-Francois Bohnert said Airbus had “acknowledged acts of corruption” in negotiating the deal.

Jean Francois Bohnert
Jean-Francois Bohnert (Michel Euler/AP)

British and French authorities were investigating alleged fraud and bribery related to Airbus’s use of outside consultants to sell planes. US authorities were also investigating Airbus’s compliance with American arms trafficking regulations.

Mr Bohnert said former executives, including ex-chief executive Tom Enders, could still face eventual trial in a separate but related French investigation into wrongdoing by individuals. Friday’s ruling only concerned Airbus as a company.

Airbus said earlier in the week that it had put aside 3.6 billion euros (£3 billion) to cover the costs of the fine.

The French court said France will get 2.1 billion euros (£1.7 billion) out of that sum as part of a special plea deal arrangement introduced into French law recently.

The UK court approved a so-called deferred prosecution agreement in which Airbus will pay Britain a total of 991 million euros (£830 million).

The US is set to get 530 million euros (£450 million) under its deferred prosecution agreement.

The French financial prosecutor’s office and British Serious Fraud Office started investigating in 2016, and the US Department of Justice joined in 2018.

While Airbus could have faced even greater penalties and legal fees if the case had gone to trial, the French prosecutor insisted the agreement was not a gift to the company.

“More than 3 billion euros is not a very easy fine to pay,” Mr Bohnert told reporters, saying it was wiping out the equivalent of a year of Airbus profits – in a good year.

The US agreement relates to allegations that the company schemed to offer and pay bribes to foreign officials, including Chinese officials, for business and contracts. The company was also accused of wilfully failing to disclose political contributions, commissions and fees to the US government relating to the sale and export of defence services.

“Airbus engaged in a multi-year and massive scheme to corruptly enhance its business interests by paying bribes in China and other countries and concealing those bribes,” said US assistant attorney general Brian Benczkowski, who leads the Justice Department’s criminal division.

As part of the agreement, Airbus has agreed to continue to co-operate in any investigations and prosecutions, the Justice Department said.

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