October 13, 2017 / 11:00 AM / a year ago

Airbus CEO warns of significant fines over corruption probe

PARIS (Reuters) - Airbus Chief Executive Tom Enders reiterated on Friday the group could face significant fines as the result of UK and French corruption investigations into the use of middlemen in plane sales.

FILE PHOTO: Airbus Group Chief Executive Tom Enders listens during a news conference on the aerospace group's annual results, in London, Britain February 24, 2016. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

“I cannot predict the outcome of this investigation but it is not impossible that the fine will be significant,” Enders told Le Monde in an interview.

“We know that all this is weighing on the company but we have no alternative.”

Britain and France have pledged to co-operate in their investigations, which were launched after Airbus disclosed anomalies last year in past filings on the use of agents.

It also faces an Austrian probe over a 2003 fighter sale.

Enders told Le Monde he was not aware of any investigation being carried by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Airbus is also conducting its own internal investigation in the hope of being offered a deal by UK prosecutors as a reward for co-operation and sharing results with investigators.

Legal experts say any settlement could cost significantly more than the roughly 700 million pounds paid by Rolls-Royce under a similar deal earlier this year.

Speaking separately to Le Monde, Airbus Chairman Denis Ranque said the board was mindful of the fact that a conviction could cost Airbus, a major defense and space supplier, access to public markets.

“The consequences of such a scenario would be very heavy. Full and utter co-operation is the only path possible,” he said.

People familiar with the matter have said the size of sums involved in the probe, spread over dozens of deals, and mounting internal tensions have generated alarm at board level.

The board expressed full trust and confidence in Enders on Thursday, but two people familiar with the matter said it only did so after commissioning its own study of top management.

Le Monde said the board had appointed its own lawyers and that Ranque had declined to confirm or deny this.

Two people with knowledge of the move said the board has also recently hired head hunters. One of the people said, however, that this was part of a normal talent review.

Enders earlier this year announced his intention to renew his three-year mandate in 2019.

Airbus declined to comment on board actions.

(This story corrects date in penultimate paragraph to 2019.)

Reporting by Tim Hepher, editing by David Evans

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