Airbus says Austria probing its chief over Eurofighter deal

Airbus Group CEO Tom Enders poses during an interview for AFP in Amsterdam on April 12, 2017

Austrian prosecutors are investigating Airbus chief Tom Enders as part of a fraud and corruption probe into a 2003 Eurofighter deal, the aircraft maker said Wednesday.

"The Vienna prosecutor informed us this afternoon for the first time that all individuals on an Austrian financial crimes unit list are under investigation. That list includes Tom Enders," an Airbus spokesman said in a written statement to AFP.

"As we have always said, we believe these accusations to be totally unfounded," he said.

In February, Austria sued Airbus over a 2003 Eurofighter deal that was long alleged to have been highly shady, seeking up to 1.1 billion euros ($1.2 billion) in damages.

Austria's defence ministry said at the time that the lawsuit accused Airbus and the Eurofighter consortium of deliberately hoodwinking Vienna over the two-billion-euro order.

At the time Enders was head of the defence division of EADS, which became the Airbus Group in 2014.

The Eurofighter Typhoon is a major prestige product for the European defence industry, with 475 aircraft delivered so far to Germany, Britain, Italy and Spain, as well as to Austria and Saudi Arabia.

The four founding nations in the consortium -- Germany, Spain, Britain and Italy -– all use the planes in their own air forces. 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. The total supply chain employs some 100,000 people.

Austria in 2003 signed up to 18 of the aircraft, which then dropped to 15 because of budgetary constraints.

Negotiations had begun in 2000, stirring unease in the neutral Alpine country -- it is not in NATO -- and allegations started to swirl about kickbacks to politicians and others.

A graft probe was set up in 2007 and led to the suspension of the then air force chief following revelations that his wife's company had been paid 87,600 euros by a lobbyist.