Airbus agrees to settle corruption probes with US, UK and France

Visitors inspect a model Airbus SE A380 aircraft in an exhibition center at the aircraft maker’s factory in Toulouse, France, on Wednesday, March 20, 2019.

Balint Porneczi | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Airbus has agreed in principle to a settlement with French, British and U.S. authorities over an investigation into allegations of bribery and corruption, it said on Tuesday.

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.

Airbus, which dominates with U.S. rival Boeing the commercial airliner market, said it could not comment on precise details regarding its talks with authorities, including how much it expected to pay out in the settlements. Some press reports suggested a figure of around 3 billion euros ($3.3 billion).

Nevertheless, Airbus shares rose, as analysts and traders welcomed the fact that Airbus was managing to draw a line under the affair. The stock was up 2.3% in early trading.

“Airbus confirms that it has reached agreement in principle with the French Parquet National Financier (PNF), the U.K. Serious Fraud Office (SFO) and the U.S. authorities,” the Franco-German company said in a statement.

“These agreements are made in the context of investigations into allegations of bribery and corruption as well as compliance with the U.S. International Traffic in Arms Regulations (“ITAR”). They remain subject to approval by French and UK courts and the U.S. court and regulator,” it said.

Analysts at brokerage Jefferies welcomed the settlement, although they wrote in a note to clients that the reported cost of 3 billion euros was “towards the upper end of what we thought probable.”

A traders’ note from Bank of America (BofA) said the settlement removed a negative “overhang” on the stock.

Airbus had already fired more than 100 people over ethics and compliance issues as a result of its own probe into the corruption allegations.

The investigations by British and French authorities began after Airbus drew the attention of regulators to inaccurate declarations it had made to Britain’s export credit finance agency over payments to sales agents. The SFO launched its probe in August 2016, followed seven months later by the PNF.

At the center of the case was 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, sources familiar with the matter have said.

A German probe into Airbus for potential misuse of client documents is ongoing.

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