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AIRBUS APPOINTS HEAVYWEIGHT PANEL TO EXAMINE ITS ACTIVITIES

29 May 2017

Airbus has appointed an independent review panel that includes two former ministers and a life peer to oversee its anti-corruption practices.

The move comes after Britain and France launched fraud and bribery investigations into the firm's sale of jetliners.

Airbus has announced that the panel will report to the European plane manufacturer's Chief Executive Tom Enders and the board. Conservative life peer Lord Gold, ex-German finance minister Theo Waigel and former French European affairs minister Noelle Lenoir make up the panel.

Lord Gold was asked by Rolls-Royce to examine its procedures when it became the subject of a bribery investigation.

This panel is part of Airbus' wide-ranging changes to its compliance procedures. It has already acknowledged that it made flawed applications for export credit support from Britain for commercial jets.

Britain's Serious Fraud Office (SFO) started a bribery and fraud investigation last year after Airbus notified it of incorrect statements and omissions regarding what it had previously declared about its use of middlemen when applying for export credits.

France began a similar investigation earlier this year. The authorities in the two countries have agreed to co-operate with each other regarding the investigation of Airbus.

Airbus is also facing an investigation into fighter sales in Austria. It has called the allegations regarding its activities in Austria unfounded but has pledged to co-operate with all ongoing investigations.

Tom Enders has said that the newly-created panel would be totally independent. It will have access to all areas of the company and, according to the Chief Executive, will take a "hard look" at Airbus' systems and its culture when it comes to securing business.

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".

Airbus has stated that its decision to appoint an external panel was voluntary. It is likely, however, that this decision was taken after consulting the UK and French investigating authorities.

Such a move will be expensive. But it may boost the likelihood of Airbus being granted a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) by the SFO and also in France, where such bargains are now possible under a recent anti-corruption law.

A DPA involves the prosecution of a company being suspended if that company meets - and continues to meet - conditions that are imposed on it by the authorities. A failure to meet these obligations will result in the prosecution being resumed.

While a DPA enables a company to escape the time, effort, cost and reputational damage of a prosecution, they can result in large fines being imposed. Rolls-Royce agreed in January to submit to external monitoring and pay £671M to settle its bribery allegations under a DPA.

While we do not know exactly how the probes into Airbus will proceed, it is likely that the cost of its newly-created panel, its legal representation and any resulting fine will see it having to dig deep to bring an end to the investigations.
Such a costly outcome could well have been avoided if it had placed greater emphasis on compliance in the first place.


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