Airbus agrees to settle corruption probes with France, Britain, US

LONDON – Airbus said it reached an agreement in principle with the authorities in the UK, France and the US to settle bribery allegations that have shadowed the European airplane manufacturer for years.

The accords could cost Airbus in the range of US$3 billion (S$4.1 billion), according to a person familiar with the matter. They remain subject to approval by courts in the three countries, as well as the US regulator, Airbus said in a statement on Tuesday (Jan 28).

The charges involve the use of intermediaries in securing jet orders, a practice that Airbus employed as it tried to reach parity with US rival Boeing. A settlement would allow Airbus to move past the long-running probe at a time when Boeing is struggling with the grounding of its 737 Max aircraft following two deadly crashes.

“If you’re going to get a charge like this and put it behind you, right now is good, while your competitor is having problems,” said Mr George Ferguson, a Bloomberg Intelligence analyst.

The planemaker said that for legal reasons it cannot comment on the details of the discussions. The UK Serious Fraud Office declined to comment late on Monday, as did the US Department of Justice and representatives at the office of France’s financial prosecutor, the Parquet National Financier.

RECORD FINE

The UK part of the settlement is set to surpass the record £500 million (S$884 million) fine paid by jet-engine maker Rolls-Royce Holdings, the Financial Times reported earlier.

The corruption allegations reached high into the ranks at Airbus and were partly responsible for an exodus of top management. Last year, Airbus cancelled publication of a book it had commissioned on the company’s 50-year history because a chapter that addressed the bribery episode could have interfered with the cases.

As the probes geared up, Airbus abruptly stopped using the agents and said it would cooperate. Most of its top management has been replaced or retired, including former chief officer Tom Enders.

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