dodgy deal Airbus investigators, suspects haggle over corruption charges DRAFT

Investigators and company officials are negotiating an agreement to end bribery proceedings. But questions remain as investigators are unable to explain a €100-million commission payment associated with a $2-billion fighter-jet deal.
Quelle: dpa
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(Source: dpa)
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Airbus is in talks to end a corruption probe in exchange for a fine of up to €80 million or $98 million.

The case concerns the sale of 15 fighter jets to Austria for €1.7 billion and Munich’s officials have sifted through masses of documents to ascertain whether bribes were paid to a vast network of firms in order to speed up the deal.

Airbus is currently negotiating the level of the payment but denies the allegations.

But a second investigation, by the Austrian government, threatens not to go away so easily and affects the company’s most senior executives. Viennese officials continue to pursue the case, arguing that top managers must have known about the payments and are therefore culpable.

The Airbus sale under investigation dates from 2003 and questions affect payments of more than €100 million in associated transfers to consultants. The Munich public prosecutor’s office launched proceedings on suspicion of briery, serious embezzlement and tax evasion against 16 former managers and advisors associated with the French-German group.

Some may face suspended sentences.

Much remains unclear and investigators continue to work through several terabytes of data dating back six years and covering nearly all of Airbus’ defense business, individuals familiar with the case told Handelsblatt.

So far, prosecutors haven’t been able to prove that any Austrian lawmakers were bribed, leaving only the charges of embezzlement remaining. It is still unclear where Airbus payments remain worth millions of dollars.

Airbus confirmed during the weekend that the talks were underway and an agreement within reach, but refused to comment on the details. The public prosecutor was also unwilling to comment.

Further meetings between investigators and company officials are planes for this week. Airbus will reportedly pay fines to the treasury, along with profits that cannot be justified and observers expect the fine they agree on will be significantly below €100 million.

At the same time, discussions are underway with the defense attorneys of the accused managers, who may also to be fined, probably in the single-digit millions. Some may face suspended sentences but none are likely to face prison.

Steffi Ott is a journalist based in New York and working for Handelsblatt Global. Thomas Jahn is Handelsblatt's US correspondent. To contact the authors: [email protected], [email protected]