UK: Airbus And The Risks Of Bribery Across Borders

Last Updated: 6 December 2017
Article by Syedur Rahman and Nicola J Sharp

Aerospace giant Airbus is now facing corruption allegations in a fifth country.

Airbus, which was already under investigation in the UK, France, Germany and Austria for suspected corruption, has announced that it has found "inaccuracies in filings" made with the U.S. Department of State under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR). The French aircraft maker has said it has brought the problem to the attention of the US authorities and has said it will cooperate with investigators.

ITAR require exporters to disclose to the US State Department any payments made to third parties for certain overseas sales.

In 2016, the UK Serious Fraud Office (SFO) opened an investigation into Airbus regarding fraud, bribery and corruption. The SFO stated that the allegations related to "irregularities concerning third party consultants."

In April last year, the UK's Export Finance agency suspended funding for Airbus because of a lack of transparency regarding its third-party payments. France and Germany also took similar action.

In March this year, it was announced that French investigators had begun investigations into the same allegations that the SFO were probing. Investigators in Germany and Austria are examining possible irregularities in the 2 billion Euros sale of fighter jets to Austria.

Airbus' problems are not unique. In 2010, BAE paid the US Department of Justice a $400M criminal fine for impeding investigators, making false statements about its Foreign Corrupt Practices Act compliance program and violating the Arms Export Control Act and ITAR. It also paid the SFO a £30M fine in a negotiated resolution. In 2011, BAE was fined $79M by the US State Department for violating the Arms Export Control Act and ITAR. The penalties were due to payments made regarding the sale of fighter planes to Saudi Arabia and Eastern Europe.

But while Airbus's problems may not be unique, they are certainly major. If it sells aircraft to a country and there is then a suggestion of wrongdoing, there is the possibility of at least two countries conducting investigations. Airbus' situation (and the international nature of the whole aerospace industry) illustrates the risks of bribery across jurisdictions – and the need to tackle those risks.


There may be many in business who can recount instances from the past where bribery in another country may have gone unpunished, unnoticed and even accepted or encouraged as a way of securing deals.

The Airbus case, like many other recent investigations, shows that there is no way such an outcome is likely anymore. Countries the world over are more alert to the dangers of bribery. Their investigating agencies are swifter to act and more likely to work with similar bodies in other countries. Bribery very often crosses borders – and the authorities are now better at conducting appropriate responses to this. They are more attuned to the signs of bribery and able to share information with foreign counterparts on a far quicker and more regular basis than in previous years. In simple terms, tackling international bribery has become coordinated.

It would be foolish to keep thinking that bribery is a harmless tool to boost foreign trade – something that will be ignored or condoned. Anyone taking such an approach could find themselves facing an international investigation.

If that is the case, they will require legal advice from solicitors who have:

  • The ability to put together an international defence case.
  • The knowledge of business crime law in a number of countries.
  • The skills to conduct negotiations with a number of investigating agencies from various nations.

Coordination is crucial to any successful defence against international bribery allegations.


While devising a cross-border defence case and knowing the law in many countries are essential prerequisites for any legal team representing a client facing allegations of international bribery, negotiation is an area which should not be ignored. Its importance should not be underplayed.

Logical, persuasive and informed negotiation with the authorities can be as important as any other aspect of a defence case when looking to obtain the most favourable outcome.

Earlier this year, Rolls-Royce paid £671M to settle allegations that it had used widespread bribery in many countries to win contracts. It did not report the wrongdoing to the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) and the evidence against it was compelling. And yet it avoided prosecution, was given a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) and received a discount on the fines it had to pay.

This was because Rolls-Royce offered what the DPA settlement called "extraordinary cooperation'' to the authorities. It helped investigators establish what had happened, removed many senior staff with links to the bribery and devised and introduced tougher preventative measures; even hiring Lord Gold to examine its anti-corruption measures.

But Rolls-Royce also emphasised to the authorities that its 50,000 employees – and many, many more in its supply chain – would be harmed if it as punished too harshly.

Rolls-Royce had little defence to the allegations it faced. But it negotiated itself away from what could have been a potentially catastrophic criminal prosecution.


The international nature of bribery means, as we have outlined here, that companies who face such allegations require skilled international legal representation.

It is an area that may well grow, as many countries start to uncover and act upon evidence of large-scale bribery that has been committed within their borders over the years. The Rolls-Royce case, for example, involved bribery carried out between 1989 and 2013.

For those who find themselves accused of bribery, the right choice of legal representation can make a vast difference to the outcome of the investigation. The likes of Airbus and Rolls-Royce should serve as a reminder of the seriousness of the allegations and the need to make the right legal choices.

But for companies that are certain they have not indulged in bribery anywhere or at any time in their history, such high-profile cases can be a useful reminder of the need to avoid such problems in the future. Anyone doing business abroad faces the risk of being embroiled in – or at least of being asked to be involved in – bribery.

The risks may vary wildly from country to country and from business sector to sector. But all companies must:

  • Seek informed, expert advice about the dangers of bribery in the sectors and countries they operate, or plan to operate, in.
  • Devise and introduce appropriate workplace practices that prevent any member of staff or company representative being able to either offer or receive a bribe or make it possible for anyone else to do so.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Topics
Related Articles
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions