Airbus to pay record £3bn to settle bribery and corruption probes

Airbus is to pay a record €3.6bn (£3bn) to settle an international bribery and corruption investigation into payments the plane maker made to middlemen to secure contracts.

The joint settlement with US, French and British authorities is the largest-ever fine in a corruption case and means that Airbus will avoid a criminal probe that could have led to a ban from bidding on public contracts.

The company funnelled illicit payments through tax havens via two companies that it secretly controlled. It used bribes to boost its business in 16 countries, French prosecutor Jean-Francois Bohnert said on Friday.

“A page is truly turning for Airbus and it can now look toward the future serenely,” Mr Bohnert said in court on Friday. 

Airbus will pay €984m (£830m) to UK authorities, well in excess of the largest-ever fine imposed by the Serious Fraud Office – a £497m settlement with Boeing in 2017 over a similar bribery scheme.

Airbus will also pay €2.1bn in France and €526m to the US Department of Justice.

The colossal fine brings to an end almost four years of turmoil for Airbus after an investigation revealed a sprawling global network of third-party sales agents run from the company’s headquarters in Toulouse.

The operation, which has since been disbanded, once employed 250 people globally and made hundreds of millions of euros in payments a year, Reuters reported.

A string of senior executives left the company in the wake of the scandal, which also prompted a complete overhaul of compliance, ethics and risk procedures. 

Airbus reported itself to fraud investigators for misleading statements it made to the UK’s  export credit finance agency about payments made to agents.

The SFO launched an investigation in August 2016 with French authorities following suit seven months later. 

Reaching a settlement in such a large case will be seen as a coup for the SFO which has come under fire after a series of high-profile failures.

The SFO is still pursuing a separate eight-year investigation into Airbus subsidiary GPT which is accused of making illicit payments to secure a  £2bn UK government contract to provide services to Saudi Arabia’s internal security forces. 


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