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Airbus to pay billions to settle bribery and corruption cases

Edmund Heaphy
Finance and news reporter
Authorities in the US, the UK, and France have been investigating alleged fraud and bribery at Airbus for several years. Photo: AP Photo/Francois Mori

Airbus (AIR.PA) on Tuesday confirmed that it had agreed to settle bribery and corruption investigations with authorities in the US, the UK, and France.

The European aircraft maker said that the agreements remain subject to approval in the various jurisdictions, and that it could not make any comments on the details of the discussions.

Bloomberg reported on Tuesday, however, that the settlements could cost Airbus in the range of $3bn (£2.3bn), citing an unnamed person familiar with the matter.

Analysts, meanwhile, suggested that the company could pay upwards of $4bn in the probes.

Airbus declined to comment on the figures on Tuesday.

The agreements comes after years-long probes in the three countries. The UK’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) launched an investigation in 2016 after Airbus revealed it had discovered inconsistencies in disclosures made about external consultants.

The company allegedly failed to notify authorities about the use of the consultants in aircraft deals it was asking the UK government to cover with financing guarantees.

Because major Airbus components are manufactured or assembled in the UK, France, and Germany, the company has access to wide-ranging finance support from all three governments.

French and US authorities launched probes in 2017 and 2018, respectively.

It is likely that Airbus has reached a deferred prosecution agreement with the SFO, something that would see the manufacturer admit wrongdoing and pay a large fine while avoiding a lengthy and costly criminal trial.

The fines in the UK are likely to overtake the record £497m paid by Rolls-Royce Holdings (RR.L) after a years-long probe into claims the jet-engine maker paid bribes to secure export contracts.

Airbus has been clearing its senior executive ranks in recent years. Though they were not implicated in the scandal, the manufacturer hoped that an overhaul in management would give it a better chance of securing agreements with the authorities in relation to the probes.

Tom Enders stepped down as CEO in April 2019, while Airbus commercial aircraft president Fabrice Bregier stepped down in 2018. Neither have been accused of wrongdoing.