Sri Lanka has ordered a probe into allegations of bribery by European planemaker Airbus over the sale of aircraft to state-run carrier SriLankan Airlines, after Airbus agreed to settle a corruption probe with regulators.
The Indian Ocean nation was among the countries whose officials were mentioned as having allegedly received bribes in Airbus’s $4bn settlement with European and US authorities.
According to disclosures in courts in Washington, Paris and London, Airbus for years conducted a “massive scheme to offer and pay bribes” involving very senior executives in 16 countries including Sri Lanka’s ailing flag carrier.
Sri Lanka will conduct “a comprehensive investigation into reports of allegations over financial irregularities”, the office of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said in a statement on Sunday.
Detailed findings from Britain’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) said Airbus had hired the wife of a SriLankan Airlines executive as its intermediary and misled UK export credit agency UKEF over her name and gender, while paying $2mn to her company.
Yesterday, a senior official at SriLankan Airlines said a Colombo court had issued orders to arrest the former chief executive officer of the airline, Kapila Chandrasena, and his wife Priyanka Niyomali Wijenayake as suspects of money laundering.
Reuters was unable to reach Chandrasena and his wife as their mobile phones were switched off. A court source confirmed the issue of the arrest warrants.
In a statement on Sunday, SriLankan Airlines said its chairman and board had directed the management to co-operate fully with any government agency regarding any
investigation or prosecution.
The board has also told management to “preserve and study all available internal documentation with a view to take all possible corrective future action,” it added.
The alleged corruption in dealings between Airbus and SriLankan Airlines took place between July 2011 and June 2015, the SFO added.
In 2017, Sri Lanka paid $98mn in penalties for cancelling the order in 2016 and returning four A350 ‘extra wide-body’ aircraft that is specifically designed for long haul routes and unsuitable for the airline’s business model.
Anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International Sri Lanka director Asoka Obeyesekere said that the fallout from the A350 deal was widely reported to have cost the country in excess of $94mn in cancellation penalties, called for action both internationally and locally to ensure that Airbus and its agents were held accountable for losses inflicted on the island nation.
Saturday’s announcement of the Airbus settlement followed a nearly four-year investigation spanning sales to more than a dozen overseas markets.
Ghana said late Sunday it was also opening an investigation into alleged bribery over an
Airbus plane deal.
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