February 18, 2020 / 2:13 PM / 6 months ago

Austria widens investigation into Eurofighter deal

VIENNA, Feb 18 (Reuters) - Austrian prosecutors said on Tuesday they have widened their fraud investigation in connection with a $2 billion Eurofighter jet purchase following a whistleblower’s tip in December.

The prosecutors launched investigations into Airbus and the Eurofighter consortium in February 2017 after the defence ministry said it believed they had misled the state about the price, deliverability and equipment of the 2003 deal.

Airbus and the consortium, which includes Britain’s BAE Systems and Italy’s Leonardo, have denied the accusations.

“After examining an anonymous report, additional investigations were launched against a known suspect and unknown suspects on suspicion of money laundering,” said a spokeswoman for the prosecutors’ office for economic affairs and corruption.

The office has been handling the Eurofighter investigation since February last year. The spokeswoman did not give further information on the probe.

The broadening of the Austrian investigation comes to light nearly three weeks after Airbus agreed a $4 billion settlement with prosecutors in Britain, France and the United States over alleged bribery and corruption stretching back at least 15 years.

The international settlement publicly revealed new details in connection with the Austrian deal, incensing politicians in the country.

Airbus or its vendors had paid, offered, or agreed to pay political contributions, fees, or commissions worth around 55 million euros ($59.5 million) to 14 individuals, consultants or organisations in connection with Austria’s Eurofighter purchase, the deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) with the United States District Court for the District of Columbia stated.

“Regarding the Eurofighter sales in Austria, as set forth in the statement of facts accompanying the Department of Justice DPA, Airbus failed, as required by the International Traffic in Arms Regulations, to disclose the payment of certain commissions,” an Airbus spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

“The DOJ DPA did not allege, nor did Airbus agree, that these payments associated with Eurofighter sales in Austria were bribes prohibited by the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act,” the email said.

Defence Minister Klaudia Tanner threatened last week to withdraw from the contract completely in reaction to the new revelations. Her planned meeting with Airbus representatives was cancelled.

Airbus remains available for conversations, the spokesperson said.

Austrian prosecutors were broadly aware of the facts that were recently revealed and were already covered by their investigation, their spokeswoman said, declining to comment on when the investigation might wrap up.

$1 = 0.9246 euros Reporting by Kirsti Knolle; Editing by Jan Harvey

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