Airbus SE paid $4 billion (€3.6 billion) to settle global bribery and trade charges with French, UK, and U.S. authorities Friday after an eight-year investigation triggered by a British whistleblower.
Airbus paid French national prosecutor Parquet National Financier (PNF) about €2.1 billion ($2.3 billion). It’s the biggest anti-bribery enforcement action by French authorities.
In the UK, the Toulouse-based aerospace company entered into a three-year deferred prosecution agreement with the Serious Fraud Office, paying €991 million ($1.09 billion) to settle Bribery Act charges.
The conduct covered by the UK DPA took place between 2011 and 2015 in Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan, and Ghana.
Under the UK DPA, Airbus agreed to disgorge €586 million ($649 million) and pay a fine of €398 million ($441 million).
In the United States, Airbus entered into a DPA with the Department of Justice and paid a total of $582.4 million to settle FCPA and International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) conspiracy charges.
Airbus paid $294.5 million to settle the FCPA charges and $232.7 million to settle the ITAR charges.
Airbus also forfeited to the DOJ a €50 million ($55 million) bond in a civil forfeiture action. The DOJ said the bond was “traceable to the proceeds of the ITAR-related conduct.”
In the DPA, the DOJ imposed a criminal penalty of $2.09 billion for FCPA-related offenses. The DOJ agreed to credit amounts paid to French prosecutor PNF up to $1.8 billion.
The DOJ’s $2.09 billion penalty makes this the biggest FCPA enforcement action ever. Petrobras’ $1.78 billion settlement in 2018 formerly topped the list of the biggest FCPA enforcement actions.
The DOJ filed a criminal information in federal court in Washington, D.C. detailing the bribery and trade-related charges. The FCPA-related violations stemmed from a plan to bribe Chinese and other foreign officials to sell aircraft.
As part of the U.S. resolution, Airbus also agreed Friday to a $10 million settlement with the U.S. State Department to resolve violations of the Arms Export Control Act (AECA) and ITAR.
The State Department said Airbus will be allowed to spend half of the settlement — $5 million — for remedial compliance measures. ITAR includes requirements for exporters to disclose to the State Department payments to third-party intermediaries for certain overseas sales.
Airbus chairman Denis Ranque said in a statement Friday, “The settlements we have reached today turn the page on unacceptable business practices from the past. The strengthening of our compliance programs at Airbus is designed to ensure that such misconduct cannot happen again.”
He said Airbus’ decision to “voluntarily report and cooperate with the authorities was the right one.”
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The UK investigation into Airbus started first.
It was triggered when a former program director for a company called GPT Special Project Management Ltd. contacted UK investigators in 2011. He told them the company’s middlemen gave Saudi Arabian officials “luxury cars, jewelry and briefcases of cash” in an apparent attempt to smooth the passage of a £2 billion communications contract.
The whistleblower was Lieutenant Colonel Ian Foxley, a Sandhurst graduate who had spent 24 years in the British Army before working for GPT.
GPT was a subsidiary of EADS (the European Aeronautic, Defence & Space Co.). EADS was renamed Airbus SE in 2015.
In August 2012, the SFO announced a criminal investigation into GPT and aspects of its business in Saudi Arabia.
In late 2012, German police raided and searched the German offices of EADS. Prosecutors in Munich said in December 2014 the company was under investigation for bribery connected with border security contracts in Romania and Saudi Arabia.
The SFO opened an expanded investigation into Airbus SE in August 2016.
In 2016, the UK Export Finance agency suspended funding for Airbus because of a lack of transparency with third-party payments. France and Germany also suspended export funding. The funding was later reinstated.
In March 2017, Airbus said French investigators had also opened a preliminary investigation. France’s PNF based its investigation on the same allegations then under review by the SFO.
In November 2017, Airbus said in a company statement that it found “inaccuracies in filings” made with the U.S. Department of State under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations.