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Ghana cited in Airbus bribery scandal

The National Democratic Congress (NDC) has dismissed allegations of bribery in the acquisition of three military aircraft by the government of Ghana between 2009 and 2015.

Airbus, the European aircraft manufacturer, is alleged to have paid bribes in Ghana when it sold the three military aircraft.

The aerospace multinational admitted hiring the brother of a top elected Ghanaian official as its consultant for the pitch to sell the aircraft to the country.

Also, Airbus confessed paying the said consultant through a third party when its Compliance Unit raised red flags about the close relationship between the consultant and the top elected official, who was a key decision maker in the purchase of the military  aircraft.

But, in a riposte yesterday, the NDC which was the party in government at the time, said “Our attention has been drawn to media reports  about a Deferred Prosecution Agreement entered between Airbus SE and the United Kingdom Serious Fraud Office in respect of  the practice of Airbus SE in paying commission to its agents  and the use of those commissions.”

A statement signed by a former Attorney-General and Minister of Justice in the immediate past NDC administration, Mrs Marietta Brew Appiah-Opong said; “The reports alleging that  Airbus SE paid bribes during the administration  of President John Evans Atta Mills  and John Dramani Mahama are false, misleading  and do  not reflect the approved judgement.”

It added that the reports were “a gross distortion for the media to conclude  that officials of the Ghana government between 2009 and 2015 were bribed or paid  any commissions by Airbus  for the acquisition of the Casa C – 295 aircraft”.

According to USA and UK court documents, Airbus had  been under investigations by the US Department of Justice (DOJ), the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) of the UK and the Parquet National Financier (PNF) of France.

This came to light after nearly four years of investigations by authorities in the United States of America (USA), the United Kingdom (UK) and France into the business operations of Airbus, which culminated in the company being fined $3.9 billion for its corrupt practices in Ghana, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Taiwan within the same period.

The $3.9-billion fine imposed on Airbus is one of the largest in the world against a corporate body.

The US, the UK and France authorities imposed the fine in a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) which is essentially a corporate plea bargain that helped the company to avoid criminal prosecution.

However, prosecutors from the three countries said employees of the company found culpable could face prosecution.

Airbus was found guilty of failing to prevent its employees and others associated with the company from bribing officials during deals for the purchase of its aircraft and other products and also breaking US export regulations with regard to its International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR).

The DPA was approved in separate judgments by the Queen’s Bench division of the UK’s Crown Court at Southwark and the US District Court for the District of Columbia on Friday, January 31, 2020.

In an official reaction posted on its website, Airbus stated that the DPA reached with the authorities in the US, the UK and France concluded all investigations into its activities by the three countries.

According to the company, the outcome was as a result of the “reporting, cooperation and new compliance standards at Airbus” and added that it was “determined to conduct its businesses with integrity”.

The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Airbus, Mr Guillaume Faury, said the company had learnt many lessons from the incident.

“The agreements approved with the French, the UK and the US authorities represent a very important milestone for us, allowing Airbus to move forward and further in a sustainable and responsible manner. The lessons learned will enable Airbus to position itself as the trusted and reliable partner we want to be,” he said.

Court documents published by the DOJ of the US and the SFO of the UK revealed how Airbus employed different tactics to bribe officials in many countries, including Ghana, in order to secure lucrative contracts.

In the case of Ghana, Airbus allegedly paid more than €3 million through a third party.

“In fact, Airbus and its vendors had paid, offered or agreed to pay political contributions, fees or commissions in connection with these sales in the amount of at least €3,596,523,” the facts, as presented by the DOJ to the District Court in the USA, stated.

According to the DOJ’s facts, a high ranking elected official, which the document mentioned as “Individual 1” (who was in office from 2009 to 2016), made direct contact with the Airbus management about the purchase of the aircraft a few months after he took office.

“Individual 1 was influential in having the government of Ghana approve aircraft purchases and Individual 1 contacted Airbus senior executives during the government approval process. In 2011, during Individual 1’s time in office, the Ghanaian Parliament approved the purchase of C-295 aircraft,” the facts said.

As part of the sale of the aircraft to Ghana, the DOJ said, Airbus contracted the brother of “Individual 1”, who was named as “Consultant 4”, to act as the third-party agent of the company during the sale of the aircraft.

“Airbus purposefully sought to engage Consultant 4 due to his closeness to Individual 1, and the Airbus management included Consultant 4 in its communications with Individual 1. Airbus used Consultant 4 as a conduit for messages intended for Individual 1. Consultant 4 traded on his access to Individual 1,” the DOJ said.

Court documents further showed that another person, described as “Consultant 5”, a citizen of the UK, worked in conjunction with “Consultant 4” to assist with the sales.

Airbus agreed to pay “Consultant 4” €3,500,000 through a company owned by “Consultant 4” and “Consultant 5”.

According to the DOJ’s facts, in October 2011, Airbus’ compliance staff rejected the contract between the company and “Consultant 4” and “Consultant 5” because “Consultant 4 had a familiar relationship with Individual 1”.

“Disguised payment”

The facts revealed that instead of adhering to the advice of its compliance unit, Airbus executives concocted a plan to pay “Consultant 4” through a third- party organisation, thereby circumventing the company’s compliance rules.

Under the scheme, Airbus entered into a contract with a company described as “Organisation 1” in March 2012.

“Specifically, the Airbus executives proposed to pay Consultant 4 via Organisation 1. Organisation 1 was a Spain-based third party business partner of Airbus. Airbus used Organisation 1 solely as pass-through entity to obscure the involvement and payment of Consultant 4 in the sales transaction.

“Pursuant to the agreement, between March 20, 2012 and February 2014, Airbus paid in excess of €3.5 million to Organisation 1. Thereafter, Organisation 1 transferred money to the company owned by Consultant 4 and Consultant 5. Organisation 1 took a percentage of the payment prior to the transfer. In total, the company owned by Consultant 4 and Consultant 5 was paid in excess of €1.8 million in May 2012 in relation to the 2011 sale of the two C-295s,” it stated.

The DOJ added that Airbus used Organisation 1 again for the 2015 sale of the third C-295 and paid it €1,665,000 in connection with the sale.

“Consultant 4 subsequently demanded from both Airbus and Organisation 1 payment of €1,675,000 in connection with the 2015 C-295 sale,” it added.

In the judgement in the UK to approve the DPA, the UK Crown Court made similar findings as the US District Court and held that “Consultant 4”, who was described as “Intermediary 5” in the UK judgement, was a “close relative of a high ranking elected Ghanaian government official”.