UK drops investigation of individuals in Airbus corruption case

The United Kingdom Serious Fraud Office (SFO) reportedly dropped the criminal investigation of individuals allegedly involved in an Airbus fraud, bribery and corruption case. The move came after the European aircraft manufacturer agreed to pay a $4 billion fine as settlement in January 2020. 

According to three insider sources, quoted by Reuters on May 4, 2021, the Serious Fraud Office had “written to former suspects to say it would take no further action” into the probe. However, overseas prosecutors could take a different view in the case.

In July 2016, the Director of the Serious Fraud Office opened an investigation into allegations of fraud, bribery and corruption in the Airbus Group. The allegations were related to “irregular” conduct regarding third party consultants, who supposedly bribed customers to buy Airbus aircraft. The conduct covered by the UK SFO took place across five jurisdictions: Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan and Ghana between 2011 and 2015, according to SFO.

In January 2020, after a four year probe into allegations of corruption in Airbus, SFO together with the European planemaker entered into a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA). Under the terms of DPA, Airbus agreed to pay a “record-breaking” settlement fine amounting to €3.6 billion ($4 billion) in order to close the book on investigations. However, the settlement left a possibility for prosecutors to charge the individuals related to the case. 

“Airbus paid bribes through agents around the world to stack the decks in its favour and win contracts around the globe. Corruption like this undermines free trade and fair development and it is to Airbus’s credit that it has admitted its culpability, cleaned its house and come forward to put this conduct to bed,” Lisa Osofsky, Director of the SFO, said in January 2020.

Recently, the Serious Fraud Office has changed the description of the investigation from “the SFO investigation remains active and the position in relation to individuals is being considered” to “the case remains open until the end of the DPA period”, giving another hint that the fraud investigators would not be seeking further actions until the DPA period ends in 2023.


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