May 22, 2017 / 6:25 AM / 2 years ago

Airbus hires outside monitors amid fraud investigations

PARIS (Reuters) - Airbus has appointed an independent review panel including two former ministers to oversee its anti-corruption practices after Britain and France launched fraud and bribery investigations into the sale of jetliners.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Airbus Group is seen on the company's headquarters building in Toulouse, Southwestern France, April 18, 2017. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau/File Photo

The European airplane maker said on Monday the three advisers, who include former German finance minister Theo Waigel and former French European affairs minister Noelle Lenoir, will report to Chief Executive Tom Enders and the board.

Airbus is in the midst of a sweeping compliance shake-up after acknowledging making flawed applications for export credit support from Britain for commercial jets.

Britain’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) launched a bribery and fraud investigation last year after Airbus notified it of misstatements and omissions in its past declarations on the use of middlemen, while applying for export credits.

France followed suit with a similar investigation earlier this year and authorities in the two countries have said they will cooperate in the inquiries, the most far-reaching to target the 47-year-old company’s civil activities.

Airbus, which also faces an investigation into fighter sales in Austria where it has called recent allegations unfounded, has pledged to cooperate with all ongoing investigations.

The independent panel will have access to all areas of the company and take a “hard look” at its systems and culture, Enders said in a statement.

The decision to appoint an external panel was voluntary, Airbus said, though legal experts say it will have been done only after consulting UK and French prosecutors.

The costly decision to bring in monitors appears designed to strengthen Airbus’s chances of winning a deferred prosecution agreement with the SFO and also in France, where such bargains are now possible under a recent anti-corruption law.

In its 2016 annual report, Airbus said it may have to “modify its business practices and compliance programme and/or have a compliance monitor imposed on it” due to the investigations.

A deferred prosecution agreement involves a prosecution being launched and immediately suspended in return for stringent compliance actions, and can also involve a financial settlement.

UK engineering firm Rolls-Royce agreed in January to submit to external monitoring and pay 671 million pounds ($872 million) as part of fraud settlements in Brazil, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The third member of the new Airbus monitoring panel, UK lawyer and House of Lords member David Gold, reviewed Rolls-Royce’s anti-corruption policies following bribery allegations.

($1 = 0.7697 pounds)

Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta and David Clarke

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