Airbus CEO Braces for Protracted Fraud Probes

By Robert Wall Features Dow Jones Newswires

TOULOUSE, France -- The chief executive of European plane maker Airbus SE is bracing for prolonged investigations by government antifraud authorities before various probes are completed even as the company has stepped up efforts to enhance compliance procedures.

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"We expect these investigations...to last for some time, probably years, " Tom Enders told reporters. He said the company was facing "serious compliance issues," but was cooperating with authorities it had notified of the potential misdeeds.

In 2016, Britain's Serious Fraud Office began investigating Airbus's possible misuse of middlemen in winning plane deals. French officials also are probing the use of third-party intermediaries used during the sale of commercial airliners.

Airbus has said it had hired forensic accountants to help review what happened and has frozen payments to third-party consultants.

The Toulouse, France-based company that competes for orders against larger rival Boeing Co. last month established a new compliance-review group led by outsiders to help improve compliance.

The new compliance review panel will include David Gold, who also reviewed compliance proceedings at Rolls-Royce Holdings PLC. The British aircraft engine maker at the time was under scrutiny by fraud investigators. Rolls-Royce this year entered deferred prosecution deals with the Serious Fraud Office, U.S. Department of Justice and Brazilian authorities and agreed to pay more than $800 million in fines. Noëlle Lenoir, a former French minister of European affairs, and Theo Waigel, an ex-German finance minister also complete the group.

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Mr. Enders said the group will have "free rein to assess our systems, our people, our policies." It would lead to further improvements in ethics and compliance, he said.

The push comes as Airbus still is dealing with other lingering corruption cases.

The British Serious Fraud Office has been examining alleged bribery by an Airbus subsidiary in business dealings in Saudi Arabia for several years.

Austrian officials also have accused Airbus for overcharging on a multibillion-dollar purchase of Eurofighter combat jets more than a decade ago.

Write to Robert Wall at robert.wall@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

June 08, 2017 17:14 ET (21:14 GMT)