Airbus probe in India digs deeper into $2.2 billion jet sale

Indian officials have intensified a probe into whether a $2.2 billion Airbus SE jetliner sale to a state-owned airline involved bribes, according to a person directly involved in the investigation.

India’s Enforcement Directorate is inspecting a payment of Rs 142 crores ($20 million) linked to the 2006 purchase of 43 jets by Indian Airlines, as well as a commitment to provide aircraft-overhaul facilities that were never built, according to the person, who asked not to be named as the matter isn’t public.

All told, the investigation is examining benefits to Airbus of Rs 1,000 crores, the person said. That’s the equivalent of about $140 million. The Enforcement Directorate didn’t respond to two phone calls seeking comment, while a spokesman for Airbus declined to comment.

The decision to re-invigorate the probe in recent weeks suggests Airbus has more fallout to contend with after its record $4 billion legal settlement for making payments to win jet orders. French, British and U.S. prosecutors studied deals in about 20 countries including India, though it wasn’t among the 12 nations covered by last month’s final settlement.

“The beauty of the situation from any civil claimant’s point of view is Airbus has spilled the beans on itself,” said Philip Marshall, a trial attorney at Serle Court Chambers in London. “Depending on the detail there are potentially quite a few civil claims that could arise out of this.”

India is stepping up a probe that began as a police investigation in 2010, four years after the Indian Airlines order for A320-series narrow-body jets, with a team later sent to Europe to question Airbus executives. The government merged the mainly domestic operator with flag-carrier Air India Ltd. a year after the purchase.

Other countries named in the investigation have also begun examining deals involving Airbus.

Anti-graft authorities in Malaysia and Sri Lanka, two of the countries named in the $4 billion settlement, have said that they’re probing corruption allegations concerning AirAsia Group Bhd. and SriLankan Airlines, respectively.

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