Airbus agrees to settle corruption probes with France, UK, U.S.

Tue 28 Jan 2020 12:14 GMT | 16:14 Local Time

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Airbus (AIR.PA) faces billions of dollars of fines after agreeing in principle to a settlement with French, British and U.S. authorities following a crippling three-year investigation into allegations of bribery and corruption, Reuters reported.

A settlement would allow it to avoid criminal charges which, if proven, could have led to the company being disbarred from public contracts in the United States and European Union - a massive setback for one of Europe’s top defense and space firms.

The European planemaker has been investigated by French and British authorities for suspected corruption over jet sales dating back over a decade. It has also faced U.S. investigations over suspected violations of export controls.

Announcing the agreement, Airbus - which dominates with U.S. rival Boeing (BA.N) the commercial airliner market - said it could not comment on the size of settlements, which still need court approval.

Press reports cited a figure of around 3 billion euros ($3.3 billion), while some industry analysts have suggested sums as high as 5 billion euros, dwarfing a previous settlement by aero-engine maker Rolls-Royce (RR.L) over the use of middlemen.

One person who has closely followed the case estimated the settlement would be three to four times the $809 million paid by Rolls-Royce in a deal with U.S., UK and Brazilian agencies in 2017.

Airbus shares rose, however, as traders welcomed the closure of one of the most damaging chapters in the company’s 40-year history. The stock was up about 1.3% at 1100 GMT.

“Sorting out the fraud investigation is likely to remove a major overhang for the company,” said Vertical Research Partners analyst Rob Stallard.

British and French investigations began after Airbus drew the attention of regulators to misleading and incomplete declarations it had made to Britain’s export credit finance agency over payments to sales agents. Britain’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) launched its probe in August 2016, followed seven months later by France’s Parquet National Financier (PNF).

It was not immediately clear to what extent the U.S. part of any settlement would stick to the separate issue of export control violations or include the broader corruption case.

The U.S. Department of Justice has signaled a close interest in the bribery affair while mainly allowing Britain’s SFO to take the lead, according to people familiar with the matter.

Nor was it clear whether a deal would lead to individual prosecutions, which are not covered by corporate plea deals.

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