UK Serious Fraud Office launches criminal investigation at Airbus

European aerospace and defence company Airbus Group SE yesterday said the UK Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has launched a criminal investigation into allegations of fraud, bribery and corruption relating to some of its third-party consultants.

Airbus, based in Toulouse, France, added that it is cooperating with the SFO in the investigation.

The investigation into alleged criminal dealings in the sale of commercial planes was launched four months ago and Airbus spokesman Jeremy Greaves had then said, "This is as an effort of our enhanced anti-corruption [policy]. Management has taken robust action and is determined to resolve this issue in cooperation with the authorities."

Airbus, which competes for orders with Boeing Co, had revealed in April that that it was in discussions with the SFO after having admitted it had failed to notify the authorities on the use of third-party agents in deals which it was asking for UK government to cover with financing guarantees.

The UK's export credit agency and its counterparts in France and Germany had suspended financing to Airbus for the sale of its commercial planes following the disclosure by the company.

The French, German and the UK government-backed export credit agencies provide financing for some Airbus commercial plane sales, which is around more than 30 per cent of Airbus sales.

The use of third-party middlemen in major commercial deals has been the target of anti-bribery legislation both in Europe and in the US.

The UK's Bribery Act 2010 warns that "the bribery risks associated with reliance on a third party agent representing a commercial organisation in negotiations with foreign public officials may be assessed as significant and accordingly require much more in the way of procedures to mitigate those risks".

Credit agencies, including UK Export Finance, have suspended some financing to Airbus for the sale of its commercial aircraft after the first revelations were made.