Austrian court ends fraud probe of 2003 Eurofighter deal, bribery case continues

VIENNA (Reuters) - A Vienna court has stopped an Austrian investigation into alleged fraud by Airbus AIR.PA and Eurofighter Jagdflugzeug GmbH in connection with a $2 billion Eurofighter jet purchase in 2003, it said on Monday.

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The investigation was linked to accusations brought by Austria’s defence ministry in 2017, and its closure does not affect a broader criminal investigation of suspected bribery in the same deal that has been going on since 2011, a court spokeswoman said.

The ministry triggered a new probe into Airbus and the Eurofighter consortium - which also includes Britain's BAE Systems BAES.L and Italy's Leonardo LDOF.MI - in February 2017, alleging that they had misled the state about the price, deliverability and equipment of the planes.

Eurofighter Jagdflugzeug GmbH, headquartered in Munich, coordinates the production of the aircraft.

Among other things, the ministry accused Airbus and the consortium of illegally charging nearly 10% of the purchase price for so-called offset deals, which involve work being given to local companies.

Airbus and the consortium had denied the accusations.

The court dismissed the ministry’s accusations, the spokeswoman said.

“The fraud investigation based on the defence ministry’s statement of facts has been ended following requests by Airbus, Eurofighter and a former Airbus managing director,” she said.

The Austrian government’s chief lawyer, Wolfgang Peschorn, said Austria would appeal. Airbus declined to comment.

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Reporting by Kirsti Knolle; Editing by Kevin Liffey