May 16, 2019 / 11:23 AM / 7 days ago

Austrian prosecutors see little basis for case against Airbus - report

VIENNA (Reuters) - Vienna prosecutors believe there is little basis for an investigation into a decade-old $2 billion (1.5 billion pounds) Eurofighter jet purchase by Austria, two media reported on Thursday, citing an internal report.

FILE PHOTO: The Airbus logo is pictured at Airbus headquarters in Blagnac near Toulouse, France, March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau/File Photo

Austrian prosecutors launched investigations against Airbus and the Eurofighter consortium in February 2017 after the defence ministry said it believed they had misled the state about the price, deliverability and equipment of the 2003 deal. Airbus and the consortium have denied the accusations.

The probe has prompted the current government, which took office in December 2017, to wait with a decision on whether to scrap its Eurofighter fleet until there is clarity.

The defence ministry, however, says it needs a “timely” solution as the life time for the Saab aircraft Austria operates alongside the Eurofighters is running out next year. Austria therefore needs to decide whether to continue using two families of jets or switch to one.

In addition to the 2017 probe, prosecutors have been investigating the Eurofighter jet deal in another case for about 8 years.

INSUFFICIENT GROUNDS

Two prosecutors told a meeting last month that there were insufficient grounds to open the 2017 investigation in the first place, according to an internal document obtained by ORF radio and news platform Addendum.

The meeting on April 1 between prosecutors and Justice Ministry officials was held to discuss next steps in ongoing Eurofighter investigations.

One prosecutor told the meeting that “he had difficulty understanding why the investigation was begun at all”, ORF said, citing minutes from the meeting published in the document.

The two media also reported that the prosecutors’ office for economic affairs and corruption, which has been handling the Eurofighter investigation since February, accused the Justice Ministry’s General Secretary, Christian Pilnacek, of abuse of office because he had demanded it closes the case quickly.

The Procurator General’s Office - a body that oversees prosecutors’ work - confirmed it had received a complaint. It said it referred it to the prosecutors’ office in the city of Linz for further investigation.

Pilnacek rejected the accusations. “The question at the meeting was how to make best use of the results we have to date to bring the case to an end,” he told Reuters, adding that investigators had compiled a great deal of incriminating material over the years.

“There was a lack of willingness (at the prosecutors’ side) to understand that viewpoint.”

The prosecutors’ office for economic affairs and corruption said in an emailed statement it “stands for clean investigations” but did not provide any more detail.

Reporting by Francois Murphy, Alexandra Schwarz-Goerlich, Kirsti Knolle; Editing by Susan Fenton

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