BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombian airline Avianca is a "victim" in the global scandal surrounding years of alleged bribes paid by manufacturer Airbus AIR.PA to bolster sales of its planes, Avianca's chief executive said on Thursday.
The airline is conducting an internal investigation and is the subject of a probe by Colombian authorities related to a $4 billion (£3 billion) settlement between Airbus and prosecutors in the United States and Europe over bribery and corruption stretching back at least 15 years.
French prosecutors have said Airbus documents show multi-million dollar commissions paid to an agent for jet sales to Avianca, including some meant for a high-ranking executive at parent company Avianca Holdings SA AVT_p.CN.
The payments were thwarted by a freeze on agent commissions as Airbus tightened processes in 2014, they said.
“We were made aware of the issue around 10 days ago, it came out in France, it is obviously something very serious for us and that’s why we launched our investigation,” Chief Executive Anko van der Werff told journalists. “It’s clear Avianca is a victim here.”
“We’ll see what the investigation shows,” he added, speaking at an event celebrating Avianca Express, the airline’s regional arm.
Airbus did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Avianca is the target of a separate investigation by Colombian authorities related to tickets allegedly given to officials from El Salvador. The attorney general’s office searched the airline’s offices on Wednesday, seeking documents related to that case and also possibly to the Airbus probe.
German Efromovich, Avianca’s majority shareholder, said last week he does not have any knowledge of the alleged Airbus bribes and that negotiations with the manufacturer for the purchase of about 180 airplanes took place without intermediaries.
Bolivian-born Efromovich was ousted from the company’s board last year in a management tussle that led to him losing control of Synergy Group, which ultimately owns Avianca.
Avianca recently reduced an Airbus order by 20 planes. It will now buy 88 A320neo planes from Airbus, instead of 108, and delay their entrance to its fleet until between 2025 and 2029.
Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Tom Brown
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