Austrian appeals court confirms end to Eurofighter fraud investigation

FILE PHOTO: A logo of Airbus is seen at the entrance of its factory in Blagnac near Toulouse
FILE PHOTO: A logo of Airbus is seen at the entrance of its factory in Blagnac near Toulouse, July 1, 2020. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

November 11, 2020

VIENNA (Reuters) – An Austrian appeals court has upheld a decision to end a criminal investigation into alleged fraud by Airbus SE <AIR.PA> and Eurofighter Jagdflugzeug GmbH in connection with a $2 billion fighter jet purchase in 2003, counsel for Austria said.

The investigation stemmed from a criminal complaint brought by Austria’s Defence Ministry in 2017.

A lower court ordered an end to the investigation in April, which the Vienna appeals court upheld on the grounds that Austria had not provided enough of its own evidence, the office of Austria’s chief legal counsel Wolfgang Peschorn said in a statement on Wednesday evening.

“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,” Peschorn’s office said of the appeals court ruling dated Nov. 4 and transmitted a week later.

A spokesman for the appeals court was not immediately available for comment on the ruling throwing out Austria’s appeal against the initial decision.

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.

Austria’s 2017 complaint against Airbus and the Eurofighter consortium – which also includes Britain’s BAE Systems <BAES.L> and Italy’s Leonardo <LDOF.MI> – alleged they had misled it about the price, deliverability and features 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.

(Reporting by Alexandra Schwarz-Goerlich; Writing by Francois Murphy; Editing by Richard Chang)