On November 30 of 2022, the Paris Judicial Court approved a public interest judicial agreement (“CJIP”) between the Parquet National Financier (“PNF”) and the european company, Airbus SE (“Airbus”). This is the fourteenth CJIP signed by the PNF, and the second with Airbus.
This agreement provides for the payment by Airbus to the French Treasury of a public interest fine of 15,856,044 euros for a series of acts that may be qualified as bribery of public officials and corruption of foreign public officials. These facts relate to contracts concluded between 2006 and 2011 by Airbus group subsidiaries for sales of commercial aircraft, helicopters and satellites in Libya and Kazakhstan, involving commercial intermediaries or business introducers.
This new CJIP, which “follows on from the first CJIP“, ends three judicial inquiries that were conducted in parallel with the preliminary investigation and negotiations that led to the CJIP of January 31, 2020, which had been signed for a series of acts of corruption committed between 2004 and 2016.
It is clear from the information provided in this second agreement that, for procedural reasons, the facts disclosed as part of these judicial investigations could not be included in the facts covered by the first 2020 agreement.
However, in view of the payment of a fine for similar acts under the first CJIP and the implementation of corrective measures by Airbus, this second fine was lowered.
I. Corruption-related facts
This agreement relates to the facts covered by three judicial investigations, which have highlighted mechanisms for bribery of public officials and foreign public officials.
The first judicial investigation concerned a contract for the sale of twelve commercial aircraft to the Libyan state-owned airline Afriqiyah Airways by a subsidiary of Airbus (then EADS) in November 2006. It was revealed that the signing of this contract was only permitted through the involvement of two intermediaries, influential facilitators for Libyan government officials, who received commissions of 2 and 4 million euros respectively.
The second judicial investigation, opened in 2013, concerned the sales campaign structures of two Airbus subsidiaries in Kazakhstan. Nearly 9.8 million euros were allegedly paid by Astrium to a person close to the Kazakh president, to secure a contract with Airbus for the sale of two satellites for the Kazakh space program.
This information also revealed that the signing of cooperation contracts for the manufacture, marketing and maintenance of helicopters between the Airbus subsidiary Eurocopter and a Kazakh company, and of a memorandum of understanding for the sale of helicopters to the Kazakh government, had been obtained with the support of a French parliamentarian. The latter organized meetings between the various parties, the expenses of which were covered by Eurocopter. The conclusion of these contracts would also appear to be linked to the conclusion of a penal transaction between the Belgian authorities and a person close to the President of Kazakhstan.
Finally, the third judicial investigation revealed the existence of commission payments by the Airbus group to an intermediary, the manager of a private company, and his son, a former officer in the Ministry of Defense, to facilitate the negotiation and signing of six contracts in the Czech Republic, Kuwait, Croatia and Turkmenistan, concluded between 2003 and 2009. However, investigations failed to identify the actual beneficiaries of the commissions.
The PNF considered that a certain number of these facts were likely to be classified as bribery of a foreign public official under article 435-3 of the French Criminal Code and bribery of a public official under article 433-1 of the French Criminal Code.
II. A reduced public interest fine
Under this agreement, which does not entail a declaration of guilt and does not have the effect of a judgment of conviction, Airbus has committed to pay a public interest fine of 15,856,044 euros, a relatively low amount compared with the fine resulting from the January 31, 2020 CJIP.
Under article 41-1-2 of the French Code of Criminal Procedure, the public interest fine is set in proportion to the benefit obtained from the offence, and can be up to 30% of average annual turnover calculated over the last three years – in the case of Airbus, 57.513 billion euros (2019-2021) – i.e. a maximum of almost 17 billion euros.
The amount of the fine agreed for this second agreement corresponds to the sums paid by Airbus for the remuneration and commissions of the facilitators in the contracts concluded in Libya and Kazakhstan. As such, it is not intended to be punitive. This fine, which appears to be reduced, “takes into account the substantial fine already paid in 2020“, which covered the overall behavior of the Airbus group, ended in 2015.
The ordinance validating the CJIP also confirmed the payment of damages to the associations acting as civil parties: 25,000 euros to Anticor, including 5,000 euros in legal costs, and 1 euro to Sherpa.
The settlement enables Airbus to avoid being declared guilty, and the risk of being fined up to ten times the proceeds of the offence, in addition to the penalties set out in articles 433-25, 433-26 and 435-15 of the French Criminal Code, and will terminate the public prosecution against Airbus once its obligations have been fulfilled.