In August 2012, the United Kingdom (“U.K.”) Serious Fraud Office (“SFO”) announced that it had opened a formal criminal investigation into one of Airbus’s subsidiaries, GPT Special Project Management Ltd. (“GPT”), which Airbus acquired in 2007. The allegations called into question a service contract entered into by GPT prior to its acquisition by Airbus, relating to activities conducted by GPT in Saudi Arabia.
Unbeknownst to investors and the public, however, Airbus was at an increased and foreseeable risk of facing significant potential liabilities for other alleged illegal activities that would later be investigated by governmental authorities around the world. These activities, combined with the investigation into GPT, implicated all three of Airbus’s divisions, calling into question the sustainability of the Company’s reported earnings during the Class Period.
The complaint alleges that throughout the Class Period, Defendants made materially false and misleading statements regarding the Company’s business, operational, and compliance policies. Specifically, Defendants made false and/or misleading statements and/or failed to disclose: (i) that Airbus’s policies and protocols were insufficient to ensure the Company’s compliance with relevant anti-corruption laws and regulations; (ii) that, consequently, Airbus engaged in bribery, corruption, and fraud in order to enhance its business with respect to its commercial aircraft, helicopter, and defense deals; (iii) that, as a result, Airbus’s earnings were derived in part from unlawful conduct and therefore unsustainable; (iv) the full scope and severity of Airbus’s misconduct; (v) that resolution of government investigations of Airbus would foreseeably cost Airbus billions of dollars in settlements and legal fees and subject the Company to significant continuing government investigation and oversight; and (vi) that, as a result, the Company’s public statements were materially false and misleading at all relevant times.
On August 8, 2016, Reuters reported that the U.K. had opened a corruption probe into Airbus. Specifically, the SFO announced that it had “opened a criminal investigation into allegations of fraud, bribery, and corruption in the civil aviation business of Airbus,” which “relate to irregularities concerning third party consultants.” The investigation followed Airbus’s flagging of “misstatements and omissions” involving outside contractors in certain export financing applications to U.K. regulators and the European Export Credit Agencies earlier in the year, which the Company had found through an internal probe.
On this news, Airbus ADRs fell $0.21 per share, or 1.49%, to close at $13.86 per share on August 8, 2016, and Airbus foreign ordinaries fell $0.82 per share, or 1.45%, to close at $55.58 per share on August 8, 2016.
France and the U.S. later opened their investigations into the subject of the SFO’s allegations in 2017 and 2018, respectively. On January 31, 2020, media outlets reported that Airbus had agreed to a deal with U.S., U.K., and French prosecutors to settle bribery and export-control violations against the Company for €3.6 billion ($4 billion). Pursuant to the settlement, Airbus also agreed to appoint an external compliance officer for at least two years to monitor the Company’s handling of its defense-related sales and disclosures.
On this news, Airbus ADRs fell $0.72 per share, or 1.93%, to close at $36.68 per share on January 31, 2020, and Airbus foreign ordinaries fell $2.21 per share, or 1.48%, to close at $147.00 per share on January 31, 2020.
Then, on March 15, 2020, the Wall Street Journal reported that Airbus executives had previously raised red flags about fees paid to a number of middlemen working with its helicopter division, led at the time by the Company’s current Chief Executive Officer (“CEO”), Defendant Guillaume M.J.D. Faury (“Faury”), that may have violated global bribery and corruption rules, according to internal documents related to Airbus’s $4 billion bribery settlement, which were not previously made public and/or reported.
On this news, Airbus ADRs fell $3.44 per share, or 15.71%, to close at $18.46 per share on March 16, 2020, and Airbus foreign ordinaries fell $7.97 per share, or 9.3%, to close at $77.75 per share on March 16, 2020.
Finally, on July 30, 2020, the Wall Street Journal reported that the SFO had charged GPT and three individuals with corruption in connection with a defense contract the U.K. had arranged with Saudi Arabia. These charges were the culmination of the investigations initiated by the SFO back in August 2012.
On this news, Airbus ADRs fell $0.67 per share, or 3.56%, to close at $18.13 per share on July 31, 2020, and Airbus foreign ordinaries fell $2.85 per share, or 3.8%, to close at $72.10 per share on July 31, 2020.
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