Airbus CEO hits out after US corruption probe reports

Access to the comments Comments
By Michael-Ross Fiorentino  with Reuters
Airbus CEO hits out after US corruption probe reports
Copyright  REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

The US Department of Justice has officially launched a corruption probe into Europe's Airbus, according to French daily newspaper Le Monde.

It coincides with British and French investigations involving the company's alleged use of middlemen to secure plane sales.

Shares in Airbus, who could face record fines of several billion euros as a result of the probes, fell as a result of the news. 

"I'm not surprised to see some more sniping out of Paris," said Airbus CEO Tom Enders on Twitter. "Some people over there just don't get it. Otherwise, nothing new, investigation ongoing."

At the centre of the case is a decades-old system of third-party agents or intermediaries run from a now-disbanded headquarters unit, which, at its height involved some 250 people across parts of the world and several hundreds of millions of euros of payments a year, insiders say.

Airbus is in the throes of a board-driven management clearout designed to demonstrate cooperation and change the face of the company in the hopes of winning a judicial settlement on the use of middlemen, a practice it says ended in 2014.

Such a settlement would likely involve a fine and management upheaval but would avoid criminal prosecution and the even worse scenario of being barred from public contracts in the United States or falling foul of European Union debarment regulations.

Airbus said it disclosed a matter of concern to the authorities and has been cooperating closely with the UK Serious Fraud Office (SFO) and the French Parquet National Financier (PNF) in their investigations.

It said the firm is complying with US authorities' request for information relating to conduct in relation to the SFO/PNF investigation.

The DOJ did not respond to requests for comment.