President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo has directed the Office of the Special Prosecutor (OSP) to investigate the complicity or otherwise of any past or present government officials in the Airbus bribery scandal.
Airbus, Europe’s largest aerospace multinational has been fined US$3.9 billion by a United kingdom Crown Court for the payment of bribes to secure contracts in five countries including Ghana.
According to a statement issued by the Director of Communications at the Presidency, Mr. Eugene Arhin, the OSP has been asked to collaborate with its UK counterparts to conduct prompt inquiry to determine if any Ghanaian public officials had been involved in any wrongdoing.
The directive from the President also enjoins the OSP to take the necessary legal action, as required by the law, against any such official found culpable in the matter.
Reuters reports that Airbus bribed public officials and hid the payments as part of a pattern of worldwide corruption, prosecutors said on Friday as the European plane-maker agreed a record $4bn settlement with France, the United Kingdom and the United States.
The disclosures, made public after a nearly four-year investigation spanning sales to more than a dozen overseas markets, came as courts on both sides of the Atlantic formally approved settlements that lift a legal cloud that has hung over Europe’s largest aerospace group for years.
It was a pervasive and pernicious bribery scheme in various divisions of Airbus SE that went on for a number of years,” US District Judge Thomas Hogan said.
The deal, effectively a corporate plea bargain, means Airbus has avoided criminal prosecution that would have risked barring it from public contracts in the US and European Union – a massive blow for a major defence and space supplier.
Prosecutors said individuals could still face criminal charges, however.
“In reaching this agreement today, we are helping Airbus to turn the page definitively” on corrupt past practices, French prosecutor Jean-Francois Bohnert said.
France’s financial prosecutor said the company had also agreed to three years of “light compliance monitoring” by the country’s anti-corruption agency.
The US Department of Justice said the deal was the largest-ever foreign bribery settlement.
In a packed hearing at London’s Royal Courts of Justice, an Airbus lawyer said the settlements “draw a clear line under the investigation and under the grave historic practices”.
Outlining detailed findings, the UK’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) said Airbus had hired the wife of a Sri Lankan Airlines executive as its intermediary and misled Britain’s UK Export Finance export credit agency over her name and gender, while paying $2m to her company. The airline could not be reached for comment.
On defence deals, Airbus hired and disguised payments to a close relative of a government official in Ghana with no aerospace experience in connection with a sale of military transport planes, the SFO said.
Court filings in the UK and the US outlined efforts to keep relationships and payments secret, including the use of code names such as “Van Gogh” and payments described as “medications and dosages prescribed by Dr Brown”.
The SFO said Airbus sponsored a sports team owned by AirAsia executives while negotiating aeroplane orders.
AirAsia officials have strongly denied any wrongdoing in connection with the 2012 sponsorship agreement between the Caterham Formula 1 racing team and Airbus’s then-parent EADS.
The UK investigation also identified bribery allegations involving Taiwan’s TransAsia Airways, Garuda Indonesia and Citilink Indonesia.
The US court documents outlined bribery and lavish hospitality involving plane sales to China.
French and US prosecutors said the settlement covered Airbus only as a company and any current or former employees involved in related crimes could still be open to prosecution.
“With this settlement we’ve completed a first phase … we are now going to have to examine individual responsibilities,” French prosecutor Bohnert told reporters.
At the centre of the Airbus case was a decades-old system of third-party sales agents – a system run from a now-disbanded headquarters unit that at its height involved some 250 people and several hundreds of millions of euros of payments a year, sources familiar with the matter have said.
Airbus has said that it halted payments in 2014 after discovering false statements on the use of agents to the UK’s export credit agency and that it later took its findings to UK authorities.
An internal investigation, which racked up legal bills of around 100 million euros ($110mn) a year, led to a board-driven clear-out of top management and plunged Airbus into years of self-examination, hampering its sales efforts.
The probe also triggered an internal row over responsibility for lapses, with Airbus employees insisting they had no control over the choice of agents or offset deals handled under a separate entity, EADS, the former Airbus parent company.
Others say the system, with roots going back decades to an era when payments to win deals were tolerated and tax-deductible, was an open secret in the company and French political circles, where it was intertwined with influence-building abroad.
In the case of Ghana, the Court heard that, Airbus failed to prevent its agents from “bribing others concerned with the purchase of military transport aircraft by the Government of Ghana, where the said bribery was intended to obtain or retain business or advantage in the conduct of business.”
The plane maker’s employees and assigns were said to have between 2009 and 2015, “made or promised success based commission payments of approximately €5 million” to Ghanaians officials for the purchase of its platforms.
Ghana between 2009 and 2015 acquired three Airbus C295 transport planes from the company to augment the ailing fleet of the Ghana Airforce.
The purchase of the three fixed-winged platforms has been embroiled in controversy in Ghana long before the Airbus scandal.
Ghana’s former Attorney General and Minister for Justice, Marietta Brew Appiah-Opong, has denied the bribery claim.
“The reports alleging that Airbus SE paid bribes during the administration of President John Evans Atta Mills and John Dramani Mahama are false, misleading and do not reflect the Approved Judgement.”
This was contained in a press statement, she issued and signed in Accra.
It said “Indeed, the Approved Judgement of the Crown Court of Southwark approving the DPA between Airbus and the UK Serious Fraud Office does not allege that any payment was made by Airbus to any Ghanaian Government official.”