Anti-corruption officials in France are investigating Airbus over allegations of fraud, bribery and corruption in its civil aviation business – seven months after authorities in the UK kick-started a similar probe into irregularities involving the aircraft manufacturer’s use of third-party agents.
Airbus said in a statement on 16 March that France’s Parquet National Financier, the judicial body responsible for scrutinising allegations of white-collar crime, has now begun its own preliminary investigation into the aircraft manufacturer over allegations of fraud relating to aeroplane sales and the arrangement of aircraft financing.
The UK’s Serious Fraud Office opened a formal investigation into Airbus last August, probing allegations of corruption linked to third-party consultants.
Airbus chief executive Tom Enders described the extended probe by French investigators as a non-issue, which he said instead highlighted the effectiveness of the company’s own self-reporting rules.
“This is the result of us self-reporting on observations made on irregularities with respect to business partners,” Enders said in a press conference in New Delhi. “Not surprisingly they [France’s Parquet National Financier] have decided to launch an investigation.”
The aircraft manufacturer has already instructed Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer to perform internal audits at the company.
Airbus said in a statement that it would cooperate fully with both authorities as they “act in coordination going forward”. Enders has previously said that the aircraft manufacturer would consider a settlement agreement with anti-corruption investigators if it were possible to do so.
The aircraft manufacturer previously disclosed evidence of irregularities in its financing applications to the UK’s government credit agency, UK Export Finance, in April last year. At the time, the company said it had notified all relevant authorities – including the SFO – of several false declarations, including “misstatements and omissions”.
UK Export Finance subsequently called on the SFO to consider action against Airbus, because the company failed to inform the credit agency about its use of third-party agents in loan applications. It also suspended the issuance of export credits to aircraft manufacturers.
Shortly afterwards, French and German export credit agencies followed suit, suspending the aircraft manufacturer’s finance applications.
The latest investigation comes two months after aircraft engine manufacturer Rolls-Royce agreed to pay a coordinated settlement of over $800 million to different agencies, following accusations that it paid bribes to third-party agents in several jurisdictions.
Rolls-Royce paid $615 million to the SFO as part of a deferred prosecution agreement, the largest fine ever levied by the UK regulator, and $170 million to the US Department of Justice. It also reached a leniency agreement with Brazilian prosecutors worth $25.5 million.