France agrees to end Airbus corruption probe in USD4B deal

PARIS (AP) – A French court has approved an agreement with Airbus that would see the planemaker pay up to USD4 billion to end years of corruption investigations by three countries.

Courts in the United States (US) and Britain were considering on Friday their own parts of the deal with the company as part of an unusually large, international investigation.

French national financial prosecutor Jean-Francois Bohnert said Airbus had “acknowledged acts of corruption” in negotiating the deal.

British and French authorities are investigating alleged fraud and bribery related to Airbus’ use of outside consultants to sell planes. US authorities are also investigating Airbus’ compliance with American arms trafficking regulations.

The settlement was among the biggest-ever in both France and Britain in a company corruption case. While costly, the settlement could allow Airbus to turn the page on a period that damaged its reputation and led to management and policy changes. Bohnert said that former executives, including ex-CEO Tom Enders, could still face eventual trial in a separate but related French investigation into wrongdoing by individuals.

Friday’s ruling only concerned Airbus as a company.

Airbus said earlier in the week that it had put aside EUR3.6 billion (USD4 billion) to cover the costs of the fine.

France would get EUR2.1 billion out of that sum. Britain would get the equivalent of EUR983 million and the US EUR530 million.

French prosecutors said the agreement was unprecedented because of its scale and the fact that it had been arranged with three countries.

Investigators had gathered 30 million documents and conducted searches or interviews in 20 countries, including of current and former executives and employees.

The French financial prosecutor’s office and British Serious Fraud Office started investigating in 2016, and the US Department of Justice joined in 2018.

National Financial Prosecutor Jean Francois Bohnert speaks to the media at the Paris court house. PHOTO: AP