Airbus chief warns of ‘significant penalties’ from bribery probes

Airbus CEO Tom Enders warned on Friday that the aircraft manufacturer could face "significant penalties" relating to ongoing corruption probes including one into the sale of fighter jets to Austria.

Airbus chief warns of 'significant penalties' from bribery probes
Airbus CEO Tom Enders. Photo: Aurore Belot/AFP

“We are currently being investigated for alleged breaches of anti-bribery and anti-corruption laws,” Enders wrote in a letter to employees seen by AFP.

“We are in this situation because we decided last year to disclose the issues we had ourselves uncovered to government authorities and investigation agencies,” he said, adding: “This was the right course of action.”

“This is going to be a long process and there are potentially serious consequences – including significant penalties to the company,” Enders said.

An Airbus business unit in Paris reportedly built a network of shell companies linked to London-based Vector Aerospace, formerly the group's aircraft maintenance subsidiary.

Its system allowed the group to make “bribes to decision-makers in Austria” while Vienna was considering its purchase of Eurofighter military jets, German news magazine Der Spiegel reported Friday, culminating in a 15-aircraft deal worth about €1.7 billion ($2 billion).

Inquiries have also been opened in France and Britain, on suspicion of corruption in Airbus's UK-based civil aviation arm.

Without citing sources, Der Spiegel also reported that prosecutors were “preparing charges” against unidentified suspects over the Austria case.

“Internal investigators stumbled across more than 100 possibly corrupt payments in the three-digit millions,” the magazine reported, citing anonymous sources.

But Hildegard Baeumler-Hoesl, a state prosecutor in Munich, told AFP earlier Friday that investigators had “little evidence so far of corruption”.

Bavarian investigators have been looking into the Airbus since 2012, and the corruption probe over the sale of jets to Austria will “soon be over,” she said.

An Airbus spokesperson told AFP that the Spiegel report was “not based on any declaration or disclosure by the public prosecutor.”

Austrian authorities are also investigating Airbus after bringing charges in February, claiming the company paid out 183 million to €1.1 billion in under-the-table “commissions”.

Austrian Defence Minister Hans Peter Doskozil accused Airbus and the Eurofighter consortium deliberately misleading Vienna about the purchase price, delivery times and technical equipment of the 18 Eurofighter jets.

Last month, Airbus denied the accusations, with a lawyer for the company calling them “factitious and legally groundless”.

“As the process unfolds we are likely to face frequent media coverage,” Enders said in his letter to employees, while also warning against “leaks and attempts by individuals with vested interests to discredit top management by spreading false allegations.”

“In other words, prepare for turbulent and confusing times,” he wrote.


Should Germany impose border controls as Covid-19 rates rise across Europe?

A debate over tightening border controls in Germany has been sparked as countries, including Austria and the Czech Republic, battle with increasing coronavirus infections.

Should Germany impose border controls as Covid-19 rates rise across Europe?
Police at a border checkpoint in Bavaria near the Austrian border in March 2020. Photo: DPA

Back in spring during the first peak of the crisis, Germany hastily introduced border controls as countries around Europe battled to get the number of Covid-19 infections under control.

However, it resulted in long queues and chaos at border crossings. Now as a resurgence of coronavirus intensifies, there is disagreement about reintroducing tougher border controls – even within political parties, such as the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU).

In view of the worsening situation in Europe, Bavarian interior minister Joachim Herrmann believes it is necessary to talk about border controls again.

“The discussion about intensified border controls could flare up again if the incidence of infection in neighbouring countries gets out of control,” the CSU politician told the newspapers in the Funke Media Group on Tuesday.

“At the same time, we are keeping an eye on the close economic relations where there is regular commuting workers, for example with the Czech Republic and Austria”.

In Austria the number of new infections is going up rapidly, resulting in tougher coronavirus regulations and a local lockdown in Kuchl, near the German border.  A lockdown was also being introduced on Tuesday in nearby Berchtesgadener Land in southern Bavaria.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about Austria's lockdown measures

Bavarian state premier Markus Söder said one of the reasons for the outbreak in the Berchtesgaden area was because of its close proximity to hotspots in Austria.

However, if border controls are put in place it will hit the Austrian tourism industry hard.

Meanwhile, most other European countries, including neighbouring Czech Republic, Poland, Switzerland and France, are also battling rising coronavirus infections.

'Renewed internal border controls must be avoided'

In contrast to Herrmann, the State Secretary in the federal Interior Ministry Stephan Mayer, rejected the idea of renewed border closures.

When asked whether border closures could be introduced again due to rising coronavirus cases, the CSU politician told the Passauer Neue Presse: “No. The situation in mid-March 2020 was characterised by great uncertainty in Europe and worldwide in dealing with the virus.”

In spring there were no regional anti-corona restrictions yet, he added. “Renewed internal border controls in the wake of the pandemic must therefore be avoided,” said Mayer. However, the federal government said it was observing the development “with great attention”.

Recently, federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas of the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) warned against renewed border closures in the wake of the pandemic. In spring of this year “there were bad experiences after closing borders too fast”, he said.

Among the issues when borders were closed or partially shut in Germany, were long traffic jams, particularly affecting commuters and delivery drivers.

People also had to carry exit certificates and proof of where they worked or lived. Unmarried couples and families were separated for weeks. It was only in mid-June that the rules for entering the country were relaxed again.


Border controls – (die) Grenzkontrollen

Hastily or urgently – eilig

Flare up – aufflammen

Commuters – (die) Pendler (or der Pendler for commuter)

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