The Serious Fraud Office DPA with Airbus formally approved in court – comment

Last week saw the President of the Queen’s Bench Division give formal approval to the deferred prosecution agreement between the Serious Fraud Office and Airbus. The DPA will see the company pay 983 million euros, with Airbus also paying 2.1 billion euros in France and 530 million euros in the US. Aziz Rahman, Senior Partner at business crime solicitors Rahman Ravelli gives his thoughts on the agreement: “This can be viewed as one more case where one of the big boys has escaped prosecution by jumping through hoops and opening its large corporate wallet to avoid a conviction that would hamper its ability to compete in the marketplace. But there are aspects of this case that mark it out as different from many where DPA’s have been concluded.

“It has been a high-stakes investigation over four years. Three court hearings in three nations in one day underline that this investigation involved extensive international co-operation and co-ordination. Airbus stood to lose a lot if this was not concluded as it has been.

“The British element of it being 983 million euros makes it the UK’s biggest ever deferred prosecution agreement (DPA). It’s a case that confirms the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) as one of the world’s major players, alongside the US’ Department of Justice. The SFO was the first agency to investigate Airbus – a year before France and two before the US.

“The UK was the first European country to introduce DPA’s. This one can be seen as a quick, big win for the SFO which, under Director Lisa Osofsky, is looking to close investigations as quickly as possible. Although it remains to be seen if individuals are prosecuted.

“But while the current senior Airbus figures may now sleep soundly, it seems that big companies are coming to see self-reporting and obtaining DPA’s as nothing more than the cost of doing business. Nobody from any of the seven companies granted DPA’s has been successfully prosecuted. There seems to be a problem in the UK when it comes to successfully prosecuting individuals for corporate crime.

“In Airbus’ defence, it isn’t the only aerospace offender. Rolls-Royce’s bribery problems showed this. And the last 30 years has seen Boeing paying out hundreds of millions of dollars due to illegally obtaining classified documents, improperly using competitors’ information, overcharging and performing defective work. Airbus’ wrongdoing may not be on a similar scale as its US competitor. But its treatment by the SFO hardly hits new heights when it comes to tackling and deterring business crime.’’