Fraud charges are “politically motivated”, says Airbus
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As public prosecutors in Vienna investigate Airbus over allegations of wrongdoing in a controversial €2 billion fighter jet deal, Airbus has hit back at the government and continues to deny all allegations.
The Austrian government opened legal proceedings against Airbus and the Eurofighter consortium in February and the company is now under investigation for fraud and wilful deception.
The ministry said that it had reasonable grounds to believe that Airbus and Eurofighter had misled the Austrian government about the price of the 18 Eurofighter Typhoon jets ordered in 2003 (later reduced to 15), as well as their specifications and likelihood of delivery. It claimed that it was charged nearly 10 per cent of the price for “offset deals”, which are normally intended to support the economy by contracting work out to local companies.
In a news conference earlier this year, Hans Peter Doskozil, the Austrian defence secretary, said that damages could amount to as high as €1.1 billion.
The case has been under investigation for years by Austrian and German prosecutors and a final report of an inquiry into the deal is expected this week. The report is likely to explicitly state whether bribes were paid and how the offset deals were arranged.
An Airbus representative said that the allegations are legally groundless and appear “highly abstruse and politically motivated”.
According to Airbus, it is common knowledge that the price of offset deals is covered in the purchase price and the Austrian government had not enquired about these costs during discussions.
Tensions between the Austrian government and Airbus – the largest aerospace manufacturer in Europe – are nearly at breaking point, with the Austrian defence ministry closing the Eurofighter programme before its planned end (beginning phasing out from 2020), and suggesting preventing Airbus from completing a planned sale for a further dozen military helicopters.
Now, Airbus has rekindled hostilities by accusing Doskozil of violating its fundamental right to assumption of innocence until proven otherwise when he publicly denounced the corporation. Airbus lawyer Peter Gauweiler has reportedly advised the company that it could sue Doskozil for potential damages as a result of his condemnation.
Airbus is engaged in other corruption investigations in the UK and France, into the role of middlemen in aircraft tenders, and the German government has repeatedly expressed concern about the delivery of the Airbus A400M military transport plane, a project beset with delays and technical obstacles.
This week, the corporation has also been forced to launch an internal corruption investigation, following a Guardian report of suspicious transactions which could constitute money laundering.
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