Airbus, the European airplane company announced that it would close its UK subsidiary, GPT Special Project Management. The UK based wing of the company was accused of paying multimillion pound bribes to get a military contract with the Saudi Defence Ministry. As per the company’s latest annual report, published last week, its operations would shut down by 31 December 2019.
An anti-corruption campaign said that the move has been taken to save GPT from criminal prosecution, as it is not possible to prosecute a firm that has been closed, although individuals can be. It also accused the British government of interfering in the investigation by “sitting on” the case.
It is said that GPT made illegal payments and gifts amounting to at least £14m to secure a £2bn contract to provide communications and electronic warfare equipment to the Saudi armed forces.
The investigation of the aforementioned case has been going on for seven years. In 2011, a whistle-blower raised concerns over the payments made to subcontractors and termed the transactions as ‘suspicious’. In 2012, the Serious Fraud Office took charge of the case and has been investigating the allegations ever since.
The anti-corruption campaigners blamed Geoffrey Cox, the attorney general, for causing delay in the proceedings of the case. As per the Prevention of Corruption Act, his consent is required to proceed with any prosecution. Cox’s department took about a year to decide whether to approve a corruption prosecution against the Airbus’ subsidiary. He or his department hasn’t given any justification for the delay yet.
Sue Hawley, the policy director of Corruption Watch, said: “It is disgraceful that the attorney general has sat on this case so long that the company is now effectively becoming insolvent, leaving no company for the SFO to charge and sanction. This level of political interference in a foreign bribery case is completely unacceptable.”