MAHATHIR CLAIMS AIRASIA-AIRBUS KICKBACKS COULD BE ‘AN OFFSET’ – NOT CORRUPTION: ‘UNLESS THE MONEY GOES STRAIGHT INTO THEIR POCKETS, THEN IT IS BRIBERY’

AN Airbus offer of payment for a sports team linked to AirAsia and AirAsia X executives could be seen as an “offset”, said Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad today.

He said offsets were a common practice, especially in government procurements.

“I have heard of accusations that AirAsia is involved in corruption, I don’t dare to make a decision on that,” he told reporters in Putrajaya today when asked to comment on the corruption allegations surrounding AirAsia and AirAsia X.

“Usually when we buy parts, we request for an offset. Unless the money goes straight into their pockets, then it is bribery.

The budget carrier has denied claims that European aircraft maker Airbus paid it US$50 million in a kickback scandal over aircraft orders.

The allegations surfaced recently in legal documents of a settlement between Airbus and the UK Serious Fraud Office (SFO) over the alleged corruption, which also included an offer by Airbus for US$50 million more to sponsor a sports team linked to two unnamed “key decision-makers” at AirAsia and AirAsia X.

In the settlement with authorities, Airbus agreed to pay nearly €1 billion (RM4.5 billion) in the UK, €2.1 billion in France and €530 million in the US.

The airline has also denied that it’s the subject of an investigation by SFO and promised cooperation with the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, which has started its own probe.

“At the outset, AirAsia wishes to clearly state that it was neither involved in any way whatsoever with the SFO’s investigation of Airbus nor given any opportunity to provide any information or clarification to the SFO,” it said in a statement.

It denied news reports citing court documents that certain aircraft order agreements were “improperly” linked to a sponsorship of a sports team linked to its executives.

The Malaysian Securities Commission is also investigating AirAsia and AirAsia X.

The legal documents in the UK stated that two directors of the low-cost carrier and its long-haul unit were paid the sum for Airbus to secure contracts through corrupt middlemen to sell its aircraft worldwide.

The revelation led to AirAsia Group Bhd co-founders Tony Fernandes and Kamarudin Meranun relinquishing their executive roles in the company for a two-month period while the company conducts an internal probe.

AirAsia and AirAsia X have set up a non-executive board committee to review the Airbus bribery allegations and will also appoint an independent expert as part of the review.

Fernandes and Kamarudin, who are both non-executive directors in the company, will not be in the committee.

THE MALAYSIAN INSIGHT

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