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Tom Enders, chief executive of Airbus, has launched a stinging attack on the Austrian government, accusing it of trying to score “cheap political points” and abusing the legal system with its investigation into the company’s allegedly fraudulent €2bn sale of Eurofighter jets.
“These allegations are unfounded and unsubstantiated,” he said in a robust statement the day after it emerged that he has been placed under investigation as part of the criminal probe into the Eurofighter sale. “The legal authorities will also come to this conclusion – but certainly only after the elections.”
“Until then, this posturing will go on, because that is what it is all about: distracting the public until election day. That is also the true purpose of the investigative committee. “
Mr Enders, who ran the Airbus defence division from 2000 to 2005, denies any wrong doing. He and more than a dozen others are being scrutinised as part of the criminal probe launched in February by Vienna’s public prosecutor into Airbus’s defence and space arm and the Eurofighter consortium, which includes BAE Systems of the UK and Leonardo of Italy, as well as Airbus.
The investigation followed a complaint form the Austrian ministry of defence, which presented new evidence as a result of its own review of the deal struck in 2003.
Mr Enders insisted that the investigation and the leaks about his involvement had been deliberately orchestrated as speculation mounts the country may be forced to early parliamentary elections by rising tensions in the ruling coalition of Social Democrats and the Peoples’ Party.
Austria’s purchase of 18 Eurofighter aircraft in 2003 has been the subject of public concern almost from the day the deal was signed. The contract was renegotiated in 2007 but the ministry of defence says it would not have signed a new contract if it had been aware of the evidence uncovered in its own inquiry. The ministry alleges that €183.4m in costs was illegally hidden in the pricing of the jets.
“What is happening in Austria is politically motivated abuse of the legal system,” he said in a statement. “At no point were we informed or asked for a statement. Even worse, first we were denied access to the relevant documents. All this was done purely to gain time, so as to prevent a substantiated refutation of these baseless accusations for as long as possible and prevent the government’s house of cards from collapsing on itself.”
Mr Enders said his name had been singled out from a list cited in documents being looked at as part of the inquiry. “Sources close to the government leaked that I am under investigation. But the truth is: the investigation concerns many individuals mentioned in those government papers.”
Mr Enders said the company would continue to cooperate with the prosecutor. “But we will also speak plainly. And the plain fact is that this case is nothing but cheap election rhetoric. We have done everything in our power to further the investigation. But today I wish to state plainly: We will not let part of the Austrian government use us as a punching bag that it can beat on to score cheap political points!”
Austrian authorities responded that:
The legal steps that the Austrian defence ministry has taken against Airbus are serious and underpinned by facts. Now it is exclusively the job of the independent judiciary to decide on them. Airbus would be well advised not to lapse again into the mistakes of the past and to help with seriousness and less emotion in clearing up the accusations that have been raised.