Airbus seeks deal with French prosecutors in corruption probes

Airbus said Thursday it has signed a deal with French prosecutors looking into suspected corruption with plane purchasing deals in Libya and Kazakhstan, hoping to avoid a lengthy criminal trial.

A judge is set to rule on the proposed deal next Wednesday, sources close to the case told AFP.

An Airbus spokesman told AFP the company had signed the accord but it was not immediately clear what magnitude of fine it may need to pay.

In January 2020, the European aerospace giant reached a plea bargain to pay a total of 3.6 billion euros ($3.75 billion at current rates) in fines to Britain, France and the United States to settle corruption claims over several contracts involving middlemen.

The national Financial Prosecutor’s Office declined to comment.

An Airbus spokesman, however, said the new settlement involved similar deals made with Libya and Kazakhstan “that were not included in the original plea bargain because of procedural issues”.

In one case, investigators looking into suspected illegal financing by Libya of Nicolas Sarkozy’s 2007 campaign for the French presidency noted a 2006 sale of 12 Airbus planes to the regime of Moamer Kadhafi.

Three weeks after the deal was closed, a transfer of two million euros was made to a known middleman, Alexandre Djouhri, by a former Airbus executive who was charged last March.

Sarkozy, who has faced a string of legal inquiries since leaving office in 2012, has denied any illegal campaign financing from Libya.

The other corruption inquiry involves suspected kickbacks for several contracts between France and Kazakhstan in 2009 and 2010, while Sarkozy was president.

The deals included the purchase of two satellites from Airbus’ former Astrium unit, where investigators discovered traces of an 8.8-million-euro payment to a Singapore account held by a Hong Kong-based offshore vehicle, Caspian Corp.

Caspian is linked to a Tunisian middleman, Lyes Ben Chedli, who was charged in July 2021 along with a former Airbus executive, Olivier Brun.