Airbus agrees to settle bribery cases for about US$3 bil

NEW YORK: Airbus SE said it reached an agreement in principle with authorities in the UK, France and the US to settle bribery allegations that have shadowed the European airplane manufacturer for years.

The accords could cost Airbus in the range of US$3 billion, according to a person familiar with the matter.

They remain subject to approval by courts in the three countries, as well as the US regulator, Airbus said in a statement Tuesday, following reports by Bloomberg News and other media.

The charges involve the use of intermediaries in securing jet orders, a practice that Airbus employed as it tried to reach parity with US rival Boeing Co.

A settlement would allow Airbus to move past the long-running probe at a time when Boeing is struggling with the grounding of its 737 Max aircraft following two deadly crashes.

“If you’re going to get a charge like this and put it behind you, right now is good, while your competitor is having problems,” said George Ferguson, a Bloomberg Intelligence analyst.

The planemaker said that for legal reasons it can’t comment on the details of the discussions.

The UK Serious Fraud Office declined to comment late Monday, as did the US Department of Justice and representatives at the office of France’s financial prosecutor, the Parquet National Financier.

Record fine

The UK part of the settlement is set to surpass the record US$651 million fine paid by jet-engine maker Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc, the Financial Times reported earlier.

The corruption allegations reached high into the ranks at Airbus and were partly responsible for an exodus of top management.

Last year, Airbus canceled publication of a book it had commissioned on the company’s 50-year history, because a chapter that addressed the bribery episode could have interfered with the cases.

As the probes geared up, Airbus abruptly stopped using the agents and said it would cooperate. Most of its top management has been replaced or retired, including former Chief Executive Officer Tom Enders.

Progress toward a settlement has been slowed by numerous issues, including the availability of judges in France and the UK, holiday scheduling and procedural differences, according to a person familiar with the situation.