By Emmanuel Samarathisa

DIRECTORS and/or employees of low-cost carrier AirAsia Group Bhd (AAGB) and its long-haul unit AirAsia X Bhd have been said to be recipients of a US$50 million (RM204 mil) bribe from European planemaker Airbus SE, according to UK court documents sighted by FocusM.

According to British prosecutors, Airbus paid the sum to sponsor a sports team jointly owned by two unnamed AirAsia executives in Malaysia. Airbus allegedly made the payment to secure an order for 180 aircraft. 

The documents also said that Airbus employees also attempted to pay an additional US$55 mil to the directors and/or employees of AirAsia and AirAsiaX but were prevented by an Oct 2014 freeze to agents and intermediaries. 

Paragraphs 39 and 40 of the document read:

“The first count alleges that contrary to section 7 of the Bribery Act 2010, between 1 July 2011 and 1 June 2015, Airbus SE failed to prevent persons associated with Airbus SE from bribing others concerned with the purchase of aircraft by AirAsia and AirAsia X airlines from Airbus, namely directors and/or employees of AirAsia airlines where the said bribery was intended to obtain or retain business or advantage in the conduct of business for Airbus SE.

“AirAsia and AirAsia X are two major airlines in Southeast Asia, headquartered in Malaysia and were significant customers of Airbus at the time of the offences. Between October 2005 and November 2014, AirAsia and AirAsia X ordered 406 aircraft from Airbus, including 180 aircraft secured during the indictment period by way of improper payment (made by EADS France SAS, later Airbus Group SAS), and the offer of a further improper payment. The improper payment consisted of $50 million (and Airbus employees also offered but did not pay an additional $55 Million) paid to directors and/or employees of AirAsia and AirAsia X airlines as sponsorship for a sports team. The sports team was jointly owned by AirAsia Executive 1 and AirAsia Executive 2 but was legally unrelated to AirAsia and AirAsiaX.”

According to a Guardian report in November 2015, Tan Sri Tony Fernandes and Datuk Kamarudin Meranun, respectively Group CEO and executive chairman of Air Asia Group Bhd, and major shareholders are listed as shareholders of Queens Parks Rangers. Fernandes and Meranun were also co-chairmen of F1 team Caterham.

According to The Wall Street Journal, in a Jan 31 report, Airbus agreed to a hefty US$ 4 bil settlement with prosecutors from the US, UK and France over alleged bribery and export-control violations against the planemaker. 

Airbus disclosed the financial terms of the deal, said to be the largest international settlement over alleged bribery, earlier that week. Anti-graft officers in all three jurisdictions, in detailed allegations released Friday, which included the UK High Court documents sighted, said Airbus made illicit payments for years to intermediaries to secure contracts for its planes and other products. 

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