The UK’s Serious Fraud Office has opened a criminal investigation into allegations of fraud, bribery and corruption at France’s Airbus Group, starting a process that could take years to resolve.
“These allegations relate to irregularities concerning third-party consultants,” says the SFO, following an announcement by Airbus earlier in the week.
The SFO will now investigate the case before either pressing charges or dropping the case – typically investigations like this can take a while, so there is no particular timeline due to the nature of the case, a spokesperson for the SFO explains to GTR.
The investigation follows a notification by Airbus itself to UK authorities in April, regarding inaccuracies relating to applications for export credit financing for its customers. The company says it discovered mistakes and omissions relating to information provided in respect to consultants and other third parties, but has stopped short of providing any details with regards to the countries or contracts involved.
The admission led to a freeze on UK export financing and notification to the SFO, which has subsequently led to the launch of the criminal investigation.
France and Germany have also frozen export credit to Airbus following the announcements. Since the major components of Airbus commercial aircraft are manufactured and assembled in France, Germany and the UK, the company had access to finance support from all three governments.
Last week GTR reported that the company supplied a near tenfold increase in customer financing on the back of the export credit blocks. In its half-yearly statement, the company says it supplied €587mn of financing to customers compared to €63mn for the first half of 2015.
This is the second SFO probe into Airbus. In 2012 the agency launched an investigation into the company following a whistleblower’s allegations of bribery and corruption relating to activities conducted by GPT Special Project Management, an Airbus subsidiary that sells communications equipment to the Saudi National Guard.
The investigation saw the SFO arrest and question six people in 2014. Airbus says it is “continuing engagement with the authorities” on the case.
Market commentators have speculated that the two cases could see a more level playing field created between Airbus and its main competitor Boeing. The SFO’s investigations highlight a crackdown on the use of intermediaries and third-party agents to win deals – which is believed to have given an advantage to Airbus as Boeing has had to operate under strict US regulations, namely the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.