VIENNA (Reuters) - A parliamentary inquiry into Austria’s $2 billion (1.47 billion pounds) Eurofighter deal found no indications of bribery or that Airbus and its partners illegally influenced Austrian politicians, according to the final report on the matter. Lawmakers launched their inquiry in March to check whether politicians might have accepted bribes from the makers of Eurofighter to approve the deal. Vienna prosecutors are pursuing a separate investigation into allegations of fraud against Airbus and the Eurofighter consortium based on earlier complaints from the defence ministry, which is seeking up to 1.1 billion euros in compensation.
Airbus and the consortium, which includes Britain’s BAE Systems and Italy’s Leonardo, rejected the accusations as politically motivated and, on Monday, threatened Austria’s defence minister with legal action. Allegations that decision-makers pocketed money for their approval of the Eurofighter deal surfaced almost immediately after the original purchase was agreed in 2003.
Legislators investigated a settlement Austria reached with Eurofighter in 2007 to reduce the order to 15 jets from 18 as well as the volume of so-called offset deals meant to provide business for the local economy to 3.5 billion euros ($4.2 billion) from 4 billion. MPs said they did not have enough time to clarify the circumstances of the initial order.
Former Defence Minister Norbert Darabos, a Social Democrat who negotiated the settlement with Eurofighter, was one of the politicians strongly criticised for allegedly having allowed Airbus to outwit him.
But the parliamentary report said no indications were found “that there would have been unacceptable influence on Darabos and his entourage in the context of the settlement negotiations”.
Airbus declined comment on the report.
It was not immediately clear if the report would have any impact on the separate criminal investigation. “A parliamentary inquiry is no substitute for the prosecutor and not a criminal court, but it can deliver valuable hints for the prosecutor’s investigation,” said Karlheinz Kopf, who chaired the lawmakers’ inquiry. While dismissing bribery allegations, the report also repeated a Defence Ministry complaint that the Alpine republic appeared to have been “deceived” regarding its partners’ ability to deliver certain jets as initially agreed. It also highlighted findings from a decade ago that Airbus had provided millions of euros in sponsorship money in connection with the Eurofighter deal to a football club that is seen as close to Austria’s Social Democrats.
The parliamentary report further assessed that Darabos did not liaise sufficiently with other ministries and agencies while negotiating the settlement and was not transparent enough to allow a court audit of the deal.
The legislators wound up their investigation earlier than planned because Austria called snap elections for Oct. 15, a year ahead of schedule. Airbus has clashed with other European governments, notably Germany, before, but the row with Austria is unique in its fury. The defence ministry said this week said it was open to an out-of-court settlement with Airbus and the consortium. But if no agreement were possible, it would also consider filing a lawsuit based on U.S. rules.
Reporting by Kirsti Knolle; editing by Mark Heinrich