FRA advised Airbus and its counsel from the early stages in designing a robust and forensically based approach to the investigation, customising a data governance strategy alongside compliance risk assessment and remediation support, as well as the eventual fine calculation.
In January 2020, Airbus announced its agreement to pay penalties of €3.6 billion, in what is the world’s first simultaneous settlement with four national authorities: the French Parquet National Financier (PNF), UK Serious Fraud Office (SFO), US Department of Justice (DoJ) and US Department of State (DOS). Behind the landmark fine is an equally ground-breaking international collaborative investigation into bribery and corruption that saw Airbus successfully navigate a multi-year cross-border investigation and compliance remediation. FRA advised Airbus and its counsel from the early stages in designing a robust and forensically based approach to the investigation, customising a data governance strategy alongside compliance risk assessment and remediation support, as well as the eventual fine calculation. FRA were the only advisers supporting dozens of differing investigative topics, multiple law firms, across all the jurisdictions and with all of the national authorities.
FRA’s exceptional team, constant professionalism, and market leading technical expertise proved invaluable in helping us navigate the many challenges we overcame to reach this complex settlement. Their vast experience in previous settlements with the same authorities provided unique insight into the complexities of a multi-jurisdictional investigation and ultimately the global resolution.
When it mattered most, we had the best possible forensic advisers.
- John Harrison, Airbus General Counsel
Leading the international forensic investigation
From the early stages of the investigation, some four years before settlement, FRA was retained to support Airbus and its team of international law firms with forensic accounting and data analytics expertise, integrated with a customised data governance strategy. The FRA solution needed to support hundreds of lawyers from multiple law firms working on different streams of the investigation and compliance efforts, each of which being interested in particular areas of the company’s extensive operations and business practices.
Given the client’s complex corporate and accounting structure, with hundreds of global entities, FRA developed a centralized data repository to allow for efficient analysis of structured accounting data. FRA’s strong working relationship with various Airbus units and teams (including finance, procurement, sales, internal audit, legal and compliance) was crucial in understanding the data landscape before scoping, collecting, formatting and finally analysing the data. A well-designed team of more than 70 FRA professionals facilitated the needs of the client and their lawyers, as well as various enforcement and civil agencies, and their advisors.
Executing an innovative and customised cross-border data governance strategy
The nature of Airbus’ activities and operations as well as the numerous jurisdictions involved, presented an incredible challenge, requiring ingenuity and tenacity. A data governance strategy was needed to navigate a combination of various state secrecy laws, blocking statutes and data privacy regulations, as well as a variety of sources of information in multiple languages. Beyond the UK, the US and France, over a dozen more jurisdictions were involved in the course of the investigation, including Germany and Spain. FRA’s specialist technical experts in processing, programming, data engineering and analytics worked in close coordination with specialist forensic accountants to utilize technology in collecting, consolidating and centralizing both sensitive and non-sensitive data for review and reporting. The FRA Data Governance team setup seven separate, independent and secure eDiscovery review environments, five of which were mobile and “air-gapped” (i.e., with no internet connection). Specific access controls were implemented to prevent even the FRA Development and Support Team from seeing any data before the company had reviewed and released only non-classified information. Through the application of various advanced technologies, including machine learning and the largest Relativity Analytics project ever (based on volume of data), FRA helped Airbus and counsel review several million documents in a cost effective, secure and efficient manner. Most importantly, the system designed withstood the scrutiny from the national prosecutors – PNF, SFO and DOJ – and crucially ensured that Airbus was able to meet the reporting timelines of these authorities.
Supporting Airbus’ compliance program overhaul
In the PNF’s settlement agreement with Airbus (Convention Judiciaire d’Intérêt Public, or CJIP), it was noted that the company had been working from 2015 to 2019 on “designing a compliance program worthy of the highest standards…”. This acknowledgement was testament to Airbus’ commitment to remediation, including requesting FRA’s assistance in designing a transformative global anti-bribery and corruption (ABC) risk assessment and follow-up implementation methodology. Working with a newly created and independent Ethics and Compliance department, our approach factored in different business models across the company and geographical particularities, leveraging existing processes and tools. It has also been reviewed by the national authorities and other stakeholders, including by the Agence Francaise Anti-Corruption who act as the PNF’s appointed monitor. The progress that Airbus has made in its compliance programme were recognised by the courts:
…starting in late 2014 Airbus implemented a number of measures. It is submitted that these have transformed Airbus into what is, for present purposes (in relation to issues of compliance, culture and the like) effectively a different company to the one that it was at the time the offences alleged in the indictment occurred.”
- Dame Victoria Sharp, President of the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court in England and Wales
Harmonizing methodologies for the fine calculation
To achieve this unprecedented global settlement with four national authorities, it was critical to align the methodology behind the financial gain and profitability analysis with all agencies before calculating the fine itself. FRA’s empirical approach to the analysis and prior experience of determining fines with regulatory bodies allowed us to help define an approach that would satisfy all parties as part of Airbus’ settlement. FRA worked with Airbus and its legal advisers to calculate the gain on the implicated contracts and support the settlement negotiations. The robustness and accuracy of this methodology was explicitly noted in the SFO judgment.
A successful conclusion through open cooperation with authorities
From the outset, Airbus took a transparent and robust approach to the investigation. Its timely reporting and determination to implement a market-leading global remediation plan won the company recognition for its “exemplary” cooperation with all authorities. This cooperation was also noted in the judgements as a mitigating factor in the final settlement. FRA takes pride in supporting Airbus in their commitment to working constructively with authorities while setting a high bar for corporate ethics and compliance.
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