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Austria to sue Airbus over alleged Eurofighter fraud

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Austria to sue Airbus over alleged Eurofighter fraud
Photo: Austrian Armed Forces
08:10 CET+01:00
Austria says it will sue European aerospace giant Airbus over a $2-billion sale of Eurofighter jets that has long been plagued by allegations of kickbacks.

"We will file a lawsuit against Airbus," defence ministry spokesman Michael Bauer told AFP.

The findings of a government investigation into the 2003 deal for purchase of 15 fighter jets worth around €2 billion ($2.1 billion) will be presented later on Thursday. 

In a statement the ministry accused Airbus and the Eurofighter consortium of "deliberately misleading the Austrian Republic since 2002 on the real price, the capabilities of delivery and its equipment".

The European Union country's largest-ever defence deal had been plagued by scandals for years.

According to the Austria Press Agency, the probe found that Airbus had misled Austria over the sales price of its 15 fighter jets.

Austria is now claiming damages of at least €183.4 million, APA reports.

Airbus said in a statement sent to AFP that it wasn't aware of the Austrian defence ministry's findings and had received "no details" regarding the lawsuit. However it said that Airbus has been "cooperating with the authorities in recent years, for example through its own enquiries".

In late January, Airbus had already agreed to pay tens of millions of euros in additional taxes over an allegedly shady €90 million payment linked to the Austrian Eurofighter contract.

Austrian and German authorities launched the current corruption probe in 2012 into Airbus, then called EADS, to investigate whether officials had been paid millions of euros through advisory firms to secure the contract.

The original deal was announced in 2000 by Austria's then conservative-run government despite strong opposition from its far-right coalition partner and the Social Democrats.

The government had initially ordered 24 jets but later dropped the number to 18 and then to 15 because of budgetary constraints.

Shortly after the contract was signed in 2003, allegations started to circulate that politicians and others involved in the deal were receiving kickbacks.

The purchase of the military fighter jets also stirred public unease in non-NATO neutral Austria.

A probe was set up in 2007 to look into possible bribes, but came to no firm conclusion.

With Vienna's "Task Force Eurofighter" probe now complete, prosecutors in Munich are set to finish their preliminary findings later this year.

The Eurofighter Typhoon is a major prestige product for the European defence industry. The first prototypes were made in 1989. The four founding nations in the consortium -- Germany, Spain, Britain and Italy -- all use the aircraft in their own air forces.

Austria saw the first sale outside of the four consortium members, and since July 2007 the 15 Austrian jets have clocked up more than 5,000 flying hours, according to the consortium.

In 2006 Saudi Arabia agreed to purchase 72 Eurofighter Typhoons. Other contracts have been signed with Oman and Kuwait.

As well as Airbus Defence and Space, representing Germany and Spain, the consortium includes British group BAE Systems and Italian firm Leonardo.

Eurofighters were used in combat missions in Libya in 2011.

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