Sunday, May 16, 2021

Airbus subsidiary pleads guilty to corruption in Saudi bribery case

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A subsidiary of Airbus SE pleaded guilty in London to a corruption charge stemming from a defense contract that the U.K. arranged with Saudi Arabia, the U.K.’s Serious Fraud Office said.

GPT Special Project Management Ltd. pleaded guilty on Wednesday to one count of corruption in Southwark Crown Court, according to the SFO, the U.K.’s prosecuting agency for major white-collar crimes. A judge overseeing the case ordered GPT to pay £28 million ($38.9 million), plus £2.2 million in costs.

The guilty plea comes after the agency said in July that it was charging GPT, along with its former managing director and a partial owner of two of the company’s subcontractors.

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The corruption offense occurred between December 2008 and July 2010 in connection with contracts awarded to GPT for work carried out for the Saudi Arabian National Guard, the SFO said.

An Airbus spokesman said the SFO’s investigation related to contractual arrangements originating prior to the company’s acquisition of GPT in 2007.

“The resolution reached by GPT today marks the final part of the SFO’s investigation into Airbus,” the Airbus spokesman said in a statement. “It is welcomed and allows the company to move forward and focus on working with customers in these most challenging times, in accordance with the highest ethical standards.”

The case was a politically sensitive one for the U.K. It was viewed as a potential threat to the country’s relationship with a key ally in the Middle East. A decision on the SFO’s six-year probe, which was opened in August 2012, languished for about two years with the country’s attorney general.

When questioned by U.K. anticorruption advocates about the delay in 2019, the attorney general’s office said the case was particularly complex but declined to comment further.

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In a statement Wednesday, Spotlight on Corruption, a U.K. anticorruption group, called GPT’s guilty plea a “stunning and hard-won victory” for the SFO. But it called for a further investigation by the U.K. Parliament into the role played by the country’s Defense Ministry in signing off on the bribes.

In a statement, a Defense Ministry spokeswoman said the agency did not tolerate bribery and corruption.

Last year, Airbus agreed to pay a combined €3.6 billion ($4.2 billion) to prosecutors in France, the U.K. and the U.S. to settle bribery and corruption allegations spanning its aerospace business in more than a dozen countries. The allegations involving GPT weren’t part of that deal, and the subsidiary’s guilty plea won’t affect that agreement, the Airbus spokesman said.

Lawyers for GPT’s former managing director, Jeffrey Cook, and another individual charged, Terence Dorothy, declined to comment. Mr. Cook previously served as an official in the Defense Ministry.

A lawyer for a third person charged by the SFO, John Mason, who the agency has described as the financial officer and part owner of two GPT subcontractors, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The three individuals are scheduled to begin trial in May 2022, the SFO said on Wednesday.

GPT ceased operations in April 2020. Airbus bought GPT in 2007 from Ericsson AB.

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The subsidiary, whose sole customer was the Defense Ministry, designed and operated communication systems for the Saudi Arabian National Guard under a government-to-government agreement between the ministry and the Saudi government.

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