Airbus to pay $4bn to settle bribery charges – investigations into former executives continue

3 February 2020: European plane maker, Airbus, has pleaded guilty to illegally bribing government officials and decision makers on airplane sales – generating more than $1bn in illicit profits. 

In a multi-jurisdictional case spanning courts in the UK, US and France, details have unfolded that show that Airbus used its 150-person strategy and marketing department, with a budget of $300m, to pay bribes in order to win business. In particular, the company made payments to AirAsia group under the guise of sponsorship of a sports team, as well as paying the relative of a Ghanain government official and the wife of a Sri Lankan Airways purchasing official.

The misconduct started to unfold when the UK’s export finance body, Export Finance, grew suspicious about missing information concerning sales agents in its filings. Airbus uncovered “red flags for corruption” and launched an internal probe. The manufacturer eventually handed itself in to the UK’s Serious Fraud Office.

Airbus will pay $4bn in a settlement for the activities, which spanned a period of 13 years. Broken down, this amounts to 2.1 billion euros to France, 991 million euros to the UK, and 527 million euros to American authorities.

Commenting on the case, US District Judge Thomas Hogan asked prosecutors whether they would be pressing charges against individuals. In response, US prosecutor Elina Rubin-Smith confirmed that the case is ongoing, adding “the Airbus ethics and the philosophy in certain parts of the company simply did not move with the times.” Meanwhile, French prosecutor Jean-Francois Bohnert has said investigations into individuals isn’t over and that authorities into former executives is ongoing.