Airbus to pay SFO €1bn in corruption settlement

image copyrightAirbus

Airbus will pay nearly €1bn (£840m) to settle corruption cases with UK authorities.

The deal follows a lengthy investigation by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) into the aircraft maker's use of middlemen to secure plane deals.

The settlement is part of a €3.6bn (£3bn) deal that also involves payments to US and French authorities.

The payments are being made under a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) - a type of corporate plea bargain.

The French national prosecutor, the Parquet National Financier, (PNF), will receive about €2.1bn, while Airbus will also pay the US Department of Justice some €500m.

The settlement was announced earlier this week and was approved by courts in the three countries on Friday.

The European planemaker, based in Toulouse in south-west France, employs more than 130,000 people globally, including about 10,000 in the UK.

The SFO, and later its French counterpart, opened investigations into Airbus in 2016 after the firm reported itself and asked regulators to look at documentation about its use of overseas agents.

Export credits

In the run-up to the SFO's investigation, UK, French and German authorities froze export credit applications by Airbus, but reversed that decision in 2018.

Export credits are used by many governments to support exporters, often by giving their backing to bank loans offered to overseas buyers of UK products.

In the past, they have proved useful in giving cash-strapped airlines the ability to afford new Airbus planes.

The investigations followed concern that Airbus had failed to disclose the use of middlemen in such deals.

These settlements will cost Airbus a lot of money - and cause a fair amount of embarrassment - but the company will at least avoid prosecution. The UK part of the deal gives the Serious Fraud Office a much-needed success as well.

The statement of facts published alongside the deferred prosecution agreement is certainly eyebrow-raising. It describes how, in one case, Airbus paid $50m (£38m) in sponsorship to a sports team owned by airline executives, to help win a contract for 180 aircraft.

In another, the wife of an airline executive was used as a consultant on an aircraft contract, despite her having no experience in aviation. It later misled the UK's export credit agency about her identity when it was applying for assistance in funding the deal.

The punishment could have been a lot more severe - but Airbus received credit for reporting the wrongdoing to the authorities itself.

Since then, there's been a management clearout, and a major overhaul of Airbus' sales operations. A new regime has emerged under CEO Guillaume Faury. He clearly sees the settlements as uncomfortable medicine the company has no choice but to take.

And he wants the bribery allegations themselves filed squarely under "sins of the past".

The US also requested information from the UK and French investigations, amid suspicions that arms export rules could have been violated.

This is by far the biggest DPA settlement the SFO has made.

It is the seventh DPA agreed between the SFO and a company since they were introduced in 2013. The total value of all seven is about £1.53bn.

In 2017, engineering giant Rolls-Royce paid £497m plus costs to the SFO to settle a corruption case.

The SFO had found conspiracy to corrupt or failure to prevent bribery by Rolls-Royce in China, India and other markets. The firm apologised "unreservedly" for the cases spanning nearly 25 years.

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