On 28 April 2021, Airbus’ UK subsidiary GPT Special Project Management Ltd (GPT) was convicted of corruption and sentenced to pay penalties of over £30m by the Crown Court in London.
This case preceded the wider investigation into Airbus culminating in its US$3.9 billion global deferred prosecution agreement in 2020 (see our previous article here). Airbus attempted to have GPT’s case included in its global DPA in 2020 but the SFO refused.
GPT pleaded guilty to one count of corruption relating to payments made to Saudi Arabian National Guard officials between 2008 and 2010 in connection with contracts awarded to GPT for military communications services.
This had been the SFO’s longest running case, having started in 2012 following a whistleblower report. GPT and three individuals were eventually charged in July 2020, following delayed approval to prosecute from the Attorney General.
Since it concerned conduct that occurred before July 2011, the charge was brought under the Prevention of Corruption Act 1906 (the predecessor legislation to the current UK Bribery Act). Corporate criminal liability under this legislation requires that the relevant conduct is performed by an individual who is the directing mind and will of the company. The trial of the three individuals is due to start in May 2022.
GPT’s sentence included penalties of over £30m, comprising a confiscation order of £20m, a fine of £7.5m and prosecution costs of £2.2m.
In sentencing GPT, the Court took account of GPT’s guilty plea, the fact it was no longer operating, the UK government’s role and GPT’s cooperation with the SFO’s investigation. The Court also noted that the DPA penalties have impacted Airbus’ finances and highlighted that its strong anti-corruption systems meant authorities only required high-level monitoring of its ongoing compliance following the DPA. The Court further commented that Airbus’ willingness to pay the US$3.6 billion DPA almost immediately in February 2020 demonstrated its commitment to maintaining good corporate ethics.
The GPT sentence will not impact Airbus’ continuing obligations under the U.S. DPA requiring Airbus to cooperate in ongoing investigations and individual prosecutions in the U.S. and potentially beyond, implement remediation, compliance and ethics measures, and annually report its progress to the DOJ.