REQUESTING an offset is part and parcel of any business transaction and does not constitute a bribe if the money is not pocketed for personal gain, said Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

He said this in response to questions over corruption allegations involving budget airline AirAsia and Airbus, adding that asking for an offset was even common when the government procured any equipment. 

“I have heard of accusations that AirAsia is involved in corruption, I don’t dare to make a decision on that.

“For instance, when we buy an aircraft we ask for an offset. It is up to you to decide whether the offset is a (form of) bribery.

“If the money we obtain does not go into our own pockets but instead is meant for a certain purpose, then it becomes an offset and this is not bribery. That’s my view,” he was quoted as saying by news portals Malaysiakini and Free Malaysia Today on Feb 6.

Citing UK court documents, FocusM reported on Feb 1 that directors and/or employees of AirAsia Group Bhd (AAGB) and AirAsia X Bhd (AAX) were allegedly the recipients of a US$50 mil (RM205 mil) bribe from Airbus.

According to British prosecutors from the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), 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 Airbus employees also attempted to pay an additional US$55 mil to the directors and/or employees of AAGB and AAX but were prevented by an October 2014 freeze on payments to agents and intermediaries.

According to a Reuters report on Feb 1, the allegations concern a 2012 sponsorship agreement between the now-defunct Caterham Formula 1 racing team, founded by AAGB boss Tan Sri Tony Fernandes, and Airbus’ then-parent, EADS.

Fernandes and fellow AAGB co-founder Datuk Kamarudin Meranun had stepped down on Feb 3 for two months to allow for investigations into the matter. 

AAGB and AAX on Feb 5 announced that they would form a committee to review the UK court findings while regulators Malaysian Aviation Commission and Securities Commission Malaysia, as well as enforcement agency Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, have launched their own queries into the scandal. 

Fernandes and Kamarudin have maintained their innocence. “We are all in shock. We did nothing wrong. But another challenge and we come back stronger,” both men wrote in a Feb 3 memo to staff. – Feb 6, 2020

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