Austrian Court Confirms End of Eurofighter Fraud Investigation

(Source: Deutsche Welle German radio; posted Nov. 12, 2020)

Vienna prosecutors upheld a decision to end a criminal probe into alleged fraud by aviation and defense group Airbus and Eurofighter in connection with a two billion-dollar (€1.7 billion) fighter jet purchase in 2003, the counsel for Austria said Wednesday evening.

A criminal complaint brought by Austria's Defense Ministry in 2017 prompted the investigation.

A lower court ordered an end to the probe in April, which the appeals court supported on the grounds that Austria had not provided enough of its own evidence after spending three and a half years investigating for fraud, the office of Austria's chief legal counsel Wolfgang Peschorn said in a statement.

"With that, all criminal investigations in Austria that were initiated as a result of the criminal complaint in 2017 on suspicion of fraud in connection with the Eurofighter purchase have now been brought to an end, " the statement said of the court ruling dated November 4 and [released] a week later.

While Peschorn said the ruling must be accepted, he disapproved that it runs counter to decisions by German and US legal authorities.

Austrian defense ministry spokesman Michael Bauer tweeted that “The Vienna Higher Regional Court has rejected the complaints on suspicion of fraud in the procurement of the Eurofighter 2003 and the so-called settlement 2007 by the regional court for criminal matters. This ends all criminal investigations.

The ruling is a blow to Defense Minister Klaudia Tanner, who had threatened a lawsuit against Airbus, which holds a major stake in the Eurofighter company.

Tanner had also threatened to reverse the acquisition of Austria's 15 Eurofighter jets, on suspicions that the government paid €183 million too much — as kickbacks to middlemen were priced into the contract.

Austria's 2017 complaint against Airbus and the Eurofighter consortium alleged they had misled it about the price, deliverability and features of the jets.

In February, Airbus was ordered in Germany to pay $81.25 million in penalties for dubious money flows related to the Austrian aircraft deal.

In January, Airbus announced it had agreed to settle corruption investigations probes in the US, France and the UK, resulting in total penalties of just under €3.6 billion.

The Vienna appeals court has not yet commented on the ruling.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Reuters reported late Wednesday that “When the lower court ordered an end to the investigation in April, a court spokeswoman said that did not affect a broader criminal probe into suspected bribery in connection with the same deal, which has been underway since 2011.”)


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