Leaked internal documents from Airbus suggest corruption may have been involved in the sale of several aircraft to Egyptair in 2003. The issues raised by the documents threaten to overshadow the planned departure of CEO Thomas Enders.
For Airbus, the deal signed in April of 2003 was a notable one. Egyptair, one of the company’s most important customers in the Middle East, had ordered seven long-haul A330 aircraft.
The French-German aeronautics company celebrated the signing of the contract in Cairo with much fanfare. “The close partnership we have had with Egyptair for well over 20 years is very special to us,” Airbus announced.
The roughly billion-euro deal gave Airbus a win in its competition with Boeing, which had long seemed unassailable in the lucrative long-haul aircraft market. The deal also helped secure several thousand jobs at Airbus plants in Hamburg, Bremen and Stade, Germany.
But three months after the celebratory announcement, something strange happened. Airbus surreptitiously signed a consulting contract — a document dated July 2003 that was never meant to reach the public eye.
An Airbus manager signed the 20-page document, which gave a Lebanese consultancy a juicy commission for the “purchase of seven A330-200” by Egyptair. The timing is enough to arouse suspicions: Why were consultants needed if the deal had been signed months earlier? Who was Airbus really paying?
These questions are also of interest to public prosecutors in Paris who are investigating Airbus. For the last three years, they have been pursuing concrete leads that suggest the company hired an army of consultants over the course of decades to bribe state officials and decision-makers at airlines. The prosecutors and Airbus declined to answer any questions about the details of the investigation.
Since summer 2017, investigators have been in possession of the curious contract with the Lebanese consulting firm, which is named Samit. They suspect the contract has less to do with consulting than with paying bribes that were promised if a successful deal for the aircraft was reached with Egyptair.