Left in Legal Limbo: Airbus’ bribery investigations going nowhere

April 14, 2020

2 min read

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What's going on here?

Sir Bob Neill, the chair of the Justice Committee, recently called for the new Attorney General, Suella Braverman to make a decision on Airbus’ bribery investigations – a case that has been in legal limbo for over 20 months.

What does this mean?

This is an ongoing investigation started by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) back in 2012.  This case dealt with a whistleblower’s accusation that Airbus’ UK subsidiary, GPT Special Project Management (GPT), allegedly offered multi-million pound bribes to secure a military contract with the Saudi Arabian government. 

In July 2019, GPT disclosed plans to close down, which was seen by some as a procedural tactic to evade SFO prosecution (to see our article on that, click here). Incidentally, Companies House records show that GPT is still active. 

The former Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox, was heavily criticised for his reluctance to act. It was hoped that Suella Braverman, his replacement, would expedite the outcome of the Airbus corruption case by finally permitting the SFO to begin prosecution proceedings.

What's the big picture effect?

It is yet to be seen whether Suella Braverman will follow the path of her predecessor. However, this case has now blighted the record of four Attorney Generals who have held office since 2012. Each incumbent made little to no progress and failed to provide the SFO timely updates or reasons for the delay.

This has a negative impact on public confidence because it risks setting an example that big companies can simply buy their way out of trouble. This is made possible by the large gap in time between the initial complaint and its eventual resolution. Not only does this represent a drain on public resources, it arguably increases the chance that the SFO will drop a particular case from its backlog of files. This was recently demonstrated by Lisa Osofsky’s (SFO director) decision to officially drop investigations into Rolls-Royce and GlaxoSmithKline back in February 2019 after five years of stalling. 

However, with Airbus’ recent admission of several corruption charges resulting in a landmark penalty of €3.6bn, it is clear to see that global regulators are still fairly robust in enforcement. Whether or not the SFO will similarly follow suit in the GPT case will depend on the new Attorney General’s stance in the coming months.

Report written by Roslyn Lai

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