Only one case of Airbus's colluding with a middleman apparently to bribe officials to buy its aircraft has led to convictions. According to Syria's state news agency, three people were sentenced in Syria in October 2001 to 22½ years imprisonment each (later reduced to ten years) for “serious irregularities” in connection with state-owned Syrianair's order for six Airbus A320s in 1996. The court also imposed a fine on the three of $268m. They were a former minister for economic affairs, a former transport minister, and Munir Abu Khaddur, the middleman. Mr Khaddur was sentenced in absentia, and is reportedly living in Spain. The court found that the men had forced the airline to buy the planes, worth $240m, and as a result Syrianair had incurred “big financial losses”.
The only inferences to be drawn are: either there was a miscarriage of justice; or bribes were paid. If the latter, the news agency did not release details of how much the men embezzled. Quite why bribes would have been necessary is puzzling. Because America deems Syria to be a sponsor of terrorism, Boeing has long been prohibited from exporting there. The Syrian government declines to comment.
The result of our investigations into instances of corruption or alleged corruption by Airbus suggests that Mr Van Espen will have a very long haul as he tries to establish whether “commissions” influenced Sabena's decision to buy Airbuses. The order for the 34 A320s could be viewed as incompetence. But nobody can predict the results of Mr Van Espen's inquiry.
The parliamentary report says Sabena's board received some lacunary information that was misleading. The choice of Airbus supposedly meant Sabena was confident of strong sales growth. Yet a month after the order was placed, SAirGroup's chief executive, who also sat on Sabena's board, said: “We're now in the last year or years of the boom in air travel.” (We do not mean to imply by inference that the chief executive was corrupt.)...