SL Prez orders probe into Airbus deal allegations

New Delhi: Newly-elected Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa arrives at Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi on Nov 28, 2019. Also seen Union Minister General VK Singh. (Photo: IANS)

Colombo, Feb 3 (IANS) Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has ordered a probe into alleged financial irregularities in the transaction between SriLankan Airlines and Airbus following reports that the multinational aircraft manufacturer paid massive bribes to executives of the flag carrier to secure contracts.

The President’s Office said on Sunday that Rajapaksa ordered a comprehensive investigation immediately covering all aspects of the alleged transaction that took place in 2013, reports the Colombo Page newspaper.

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.

Airbus employees offered up to $16.84 million to influence SriLankan Airlines’ purchase of 10 aircraft and the lease of an additional four planes to an intermediary company registered in Brunei under the wife of an executive at SriLankan Airlines.

Airbus had paid out $2 million of the agreed amount to the company, the Colombo Page report said.

In 2017, Sri Lanka paid $98 million 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 $94 million 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.

Last week, Airbus announced that it has agreed to pay combined penalties of more than $3.9 billion to resolve foreign bribery charges with authorities in the US, France and the UK.

Meanwhile, Chairman of SriLankan Airlines has advised the management of the national carrier to cooperate with any government agency in the investigations.

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