(Recasts to show probe has been expanded, adds background)
By Tim Hepher and Cyril Altmeyer
PARIS, March 16 Airbus's legal
entanglements deepened on Thursday when French authorities
opened a preliminary investigation into suspected irregularities
over the use of third-party agents to win jetliner contracts,
expanding a UK corruption probe.
The European planemaker said on Thursday it had been
informed that France's financial prosecutor, or Parquet National
Financier, had teamed up with Britain's Serious Fraud Office,
which is investigating suspected fraud, bribery and corruption.
"Airbus has now been informed ... that the two authorities
will act in coordination going forward," the aerospace group
said. "Airbus will cooperate fully with both authorities."
The decision by the French and UK investigators to cooperate
in their probes is unusual.
It could provide a high-profile test of a 2016 anti-graft
law which introduces for the first time into France the
possibility of a "deferred prosecution agreement," a type of
settlement often favoured in corruption probes and already used
on occasion by Britain's SFO.
In January, UK engineering group Rolls-Royce Plc
reached such a deal with the SFO and agreed to pay 497 million
pounds plus interest plus SFO costs after a bribery probe.
The SFO launched its Airbus investigation last August after
the planemaker uncovered evidence of false declarations over the
use of agents in its applications for UK export credits and
reported its findings to UK Export Finance, a government agency.
The UK agency last year suspended the issue of export
credits to Airbus and France, and Germany followed suit, forcing
Airbus to provide financing to some airlines in order to
maintain aircraft deliveries.
Earlier this month, the company's sales chief told Reuters
that some export credits could resume on a case-by-case basis
Airbus, Europe's largest aerospace company, is headquartered
The company is shaking up its international marketing
organisation amid the UK probe, people familiar with the matter
said last month.
The French and British investigations are separate from one
initiated by Austrian prosecutors against Airbus and the
Eurofighter consortium over alleged fraud.
Airbus also faces a French probe over a helicopter deal with
Kazakhstan and a longstanding UK probe over bribery allegations
in a communications deal between its GPT unit and Saudi Arabia.
(Additional reportnig by Kirsti Knolle and Mathieu Rosemain;
Editing by Susan Thomas and Leslie Adler)