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Airbus bribery investigation highlights power of international cooperation in tackling corruption

Loopholes to plea deals must be addressed to ensure justice is served

A €3.6bn (£3bn) corporate plea deal struck by Airbus to end a long-running corruption probe must now be followed up by prosecuting executives involved. Failing to hold individuals to account will damage public confidence and risks setting a precedent where big companies can buy their way out of trouble.

Courts in the UK, France and United States last week approved the deal – known as a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA) – after the aerospace giant admitted to using middlemen to pay bribes to secure aircraft contracts.

Airbus itself will not be prosecuted under the terms of the DPA, meaning the company avoids a criminal conviction. However the UK’s Serious Fraud Office is still able to prosecute Airbus executives involved with the bribery.

Transparency International UK firmly believes that DPAs are only successful when they are followed up with investigations and prosecutions against individuals responsible for the wrongdoing.

Daniel Bruce, Chief Executive of Transparency International UK, said:

“The Airbus settlement figures are huge, certainly compared to previous Deferred Prosecution Agreements in the UK; this is to be welcomed. Large penalties are a quick and effective way to sanction companies for wrongdoing, but they should be but one of a number of consequences for egregious corruption cases such as this. Individual prosecutions in this case are vital to ensure that justice is seen to be done. Failing to go after those involved will give the impression that big companies play by a different set of rules and can simply buy their way out of trouble.

“Record-breaking settlements totalling billions of pounds are likely to grab the headlines here, but behind the numbers there are real people caught up in bribery and corruption cases. Endemic corruption in some of the world’s poorest countries costs lives and ruins many more, and bribery sanctioned by one of the world’s biggest companies helps perpetuate this.”

The SFO began investigating Airbus in 2016 after the company reported itself to authorities. Parquet National Financier, the French equivalent of the SFO, launched its own investigation in 2017.

Transparency International France had campaigned actively in 2016 to include CJIPs, the French version of DPAs, into law.

Marc-André Feffer, Chair of Transparency International France, said:

“Before the CJIP was implemented in France in 2016, no company had been convicted for corruption, leading to an unacceptable state a near-impunity in the last 15 years. The Airbus case is a good example of how this new judicial procedure is a powerful leverage in the hands of the Parquet National Financier (also a young institution created only in 2014). Huge fines are a quick and effective way to hit companies where it hurts while avoiding the long, complex and highly uncertain process of trials. However, the CJIPs now need to be evaluated and maybe improved to make sure it contains no potential loopholes and avoid to be a tool for companies to ‘buy their way out of trouble’.”

In France, the CJIP is an efficient tool that facilitates unprecedented international cooperation in major transnational bribery cases. However, we regret that no company has ever spontaneously come forwards to denounce their illicit wrong doing to French authorities. We will remain on the lookout.

Notes to editors:

Harvey Gavin, TI-UK
E: press@transparency.org.uk
T: + 44 (0)20 3096 7695