On the eve of the Paris Air Show, we explore the corrupt and allegedly corrupt methods that have boosted past sales
IN SEPTEMBER last year, a fraud squad, led by Jean-Claude Van Espen, a Belgian magistrate, raided Airbus's headquarters in Toulouse. ï¿½They wanted to check whether there was possible falsification of documents, bribery or other infractions as part of the sale of Airbus aircraft to Sabena,ï¿½ says Mr Van Espen's spokesman. The team of 20 Belgian and French investigators interviewed several Airbus employees during its three-day stay in Toulouse and carted away boxes of documents.
In November 1997 Sabena had approved an order for 17 Airbus A320s (narrow-bodied aircraft) which it did not need. Even more oddly, it had doubled the order at the last minute to 34, a move which helped trigger the airline's collapse four years later.
Though nominally controlled by the Belgian government, Sabena was run by the parent company of Swissair, SAirGroup, which had owned a stake of 49.5% since 1995 and which also went bust in 2001. A former Sabena manager, who arrived after the Airbus order was placed, says that the planes were not needed: ï¿½It was a fatal business decision.ï¿½ A Belgian parliamentary commission's recent report confirms that the Airbus order was a big cause of Sabena's collapse.
Mr Van Espen's separate criminal investigation is continuing. According to the report, it started in October 2001 after Philippe Doyen, then a Sabena employee, lodged a complaint. Among other things, he suggested to Mr Van Espen that he interview Peter Gysel, a former Swissair employee now working at Airbus, who put together Sabena's deal with Airbus. Mr Gysel denies any impropriety. The former Sabena manager says: ï¿½I never got the slightest whiff that the decision was driven by kickbacks, side-payments and so on. But I cannot rule anything out.ï¿½ Neither does Mr Van Espen.
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