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Airbus reaches £2.5bn settlement over corruption investigations in UK, France and US

Ben Chapman
EPA

Airbus has agreed a settlement likely to cost billions of dollars over allegations of bribery and corruption.

The European plane maker reached a deal with British, French and US authorities after a three-year investigation into payments made to intermediaries to secure contracts for jet sales.

“Airbus confirms that it has reached agreement in principle with the French Parquet National Financier, the UK Serious Fraud Office and the US authorities,” the aerospace group said.

“These agreements are made in the context of investigations into allegations of bribery and corruption as well as compliance with the US international traffic in arms regulations. They remain subject to approval by French and UK courts and US court and regulator.”

The settlement means Airbus will avoid a potential criminal prosecution over the suspected kickback scheme which could have seen the company barred from bidding for public contracts in the US and EU.

Airbus said it could not comment on the size of the award which is reported to be around €3bn (£2.5bn). Shares in the company rose 1 per cent on Tuesday after the announcement.

The payment will dwarf the £671m settlement reached by Rolls-Royce in 2017 over similar allegations. Under Airbus’s so-called deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) none of its staff are accused of wrongdoing.

The company launched a major clearout of senior staff in the wake of the scandal and disbanded a unit which administered a system of payments to “third-party agents”, or middlemen.

In 2014, Airbus launched an internal probe into the system and ordered a halt to all third-party payments.

Airbus reported itself to fraud investigators for misleading statements it made to the UK’s export credit finance agency about payments made to agents.

The SFO launched an investigation in August 2016 with French authorities following suit seven months later.

Reaching a DPA in such a large case will be seen as a coup for the SFO which has come under fire after a series of high-profile failures.

The SFO is still pursuing a separate eight-year investigation into Airbus subsidiary GPT which is accused of making illicit payments to secure a £2bn UK government contract to provide services to Saudi Arabia’s internal security forces.