Local authorities probe allegations against AirAsia on Airbus bribery scandal


MALAYSIAN authorities have scrambled to probe into the bribery allegations against AirAsia Group Bhd’s executives involving the company’s jet deal with Airbus SE.

Two executives of the lowcost carrier were rewarded with US$50 million (RM204.8 million) of sponsorship for a sports team and offered an additional US$55 million in respect of 180 aircraft orders from Airbus, agreed between 2005 and 2014, according to a UK authority.

The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) — a specialist prosecuting authority tackling the top level of serious or complex fraud, bribery and corruption in the UK — did not name the two AirAsia executives, but described them as “key decision makers” in AirAsia and Air- Asia X Bhd (AAX), substantial shareholders of the two airlines and on the board of directors of AAX.

The duo was also said to have owned a group of companies, including a subsidiary company that managed the sports team. The investigation was opened in July 2016.

The UK fraud office said the sports team was jointly owned by the two AirAsia executives, but was legally unrelated to AirAsia and AAX, according to a court document.

Both AirAsia/AAX and Airbus provided sponsorship support to the sports team from 2010.

Airbus has been slapped with €991 million (RM4.5 billion) in penalty by the SFO, part of the €3.6 billion agreements with authorities in France and the US to resolve investigations into allegations of bribery and corruption, as well as inaccurate and misleading filings.

The sum is the world’s largest global resolution for bribery.

“AirAsia vigorously rejects and denies any and all allegations of wrongdoing,’’ the carrier said in a statement on Saturday.

As it is, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) and the Securities Commissions Malaysia (SC) are on the case now to investigate the allegations.

“Under the MACC Act 2009, we are empowered and have jurisdiction to investigate any act of corruption committed by any Malaysian citizen or permanent resident in any place outside of Malaysia.

“In the case of the Airbus-Air- Asia disclosures, I confirm that the MACC is in touch with the UK authorities and is already investigating the matter,” MACC chief commissioner Latheefa Koya said in a statement on Saturday.

SC chairman Datuk Syed Zaid Syed Jaffar Albar said the commission will review all the available evidence in the case to determine if an offence was committed under the securities laws.

“The statement of facts in the case of Regina versus Airbus discloses several allegations against AirAsia and AAX. As both are listed on Bursa Malaysia, the SC will examine the allegations and review all the available evidence to determine if there is any breach of securities laws.”

“Under S 317A of the Capital Markets and Services Act 2007, a director of a public listed company (PLC) who does anything with the intention of causing wrongful loss to the PLC or its related corporation commits an offence which is punishable by imprisonment and fine,” Syed Zaid said in a statement yesterday.

Transparency International Malaysia has urged the SC to do an independent investigation as this matter is of public interest, the non-governmental organisation said yesterday.

At the outset, AirAsia said the company was neither involved in the SFO’s investigation of Airbus nor given any opportunity to provide any information or clarification to the SFO.

As a customer of Airbus since 2005, AirAsia maintained that it never made purchase decisions that were premised on an Airbus sponsorship and “all negotiations and dealings leading to the signing of any aircraft purchase agreement have been undertaken directly with Airbus on an arm’s length basis, and without the involvement of any third parties or intermediaries”.

The court document submitted by SFO, which a soft copy was published on its website, stated that 180 aircraft — out of 406 units ordered by AirAsia and AAX from Airbus between October 2005 and November 2014 — were secured by way of improper payments and the offer of a further improper payment.

The contracts that were the subject of the agreed wrongdoing are 64 units of A320neo with a purchase agreement on Dec 13, 2012; 36 units of A320ceo (Dec 13, 2012); 25 units of A330-300 (Dec 18, 2013); and 55 units of A330-900neo (Nov 24, 2014), according to the court document.

The payments that are subject to the agreed wrongdoing are US$10 million (RM40.97 million) on Oct 25, 2013; US$10 million (Nov 4, 2013); US$15 million (Dec 16, 2013); and US$15 million (Jan 9, 2015).

In one of the discussion excerpts as highlighted in the court document, Airbus Employee 1 (senior) emailed AirAsia Executive 1, saying: “Resending previous selfexplanatory mail with all details attached. Could be further discussed when I will be early next week in KL (Kuala Lumpur), should it be convenient to you.”

AirAsia Executive 1 replied: “Honestly (Airbus Employee 1 (senior)) I’m fed up. You owe me 4 million already and I’m owed 16 million in total. This shd (sic) have been paid (sic) ages ago when I bought three (sic) first 60 aircraft. I want my money and I want compensation…pay up. I want my whole 16 million now…”

In an email to AirAsia Executive 1, Airbus Employee 2 (senior) stated: “I have not seen all the papers relating to the sponsorship but in general, we need to have some internal link to AirAsia as we can’t get board approval simply to sponsor. Externally there is probably no need to link the two.”

In a separate excerpt, AirAsia Executive 1 emailed Airbus Employee 2 (senior), stating that: “We have kept our side of the deal…Pls don’t let us down…”, to which Airbus Employee 2 (senior) responded on the same day saying: “Now if I bend the rules any more I hope you will see I will end up in trouble…I [sic] standby my commitment of 50m and increase to 55m”.

Airbus in a statement said that it has stepped up its compliance programmes to avoid the recurrence of such misconducts.

“The settlements we have reached today turn the page on unacceptable business practices from the past. The strengthening of our compliance programmes at Airbus is designed to ensure that such misconduct cannot happen again,” Airbus board of directors chairperson Denis Ranque said, according to a Bernama report.

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