Austria hands findings on 2003 Eurofighter purchase to U.S.

By Kirsti Knolle

VIENNA (Reuters) - Austria has handed over its findings on suspect money flows related to its 2003 purchase of Airbus Eurofighter jets to international bodies including the U.S. Department of Justice, the Austrian defense ministry said on Monday.

The ministry said it handed over the documents about two months ago.

"Foreign authorities were informed about the results of the defense ministry's investigation in the context of the international fight against corruption. The Department of Justice has also been informed," it said.

U.S. Department of Justice spokeswoman Nicole Navas Oxman said the department would not comment on any possible correspondence from foreign counterparts.

Prosecutors in Austria are investigating allegations of fraud against Airbus and the Eurofighter consortium based on earlier complaints from the defense ministry. Austria is seeking up to 1.1 billion euros ($1.4 billion) in compensation.

Airbus and the consortium, which includes Britain's BAE Systems and Italy's Leonardo, have rejected the accusations as politically motivated and have threatened legal action over the claims.

A task force created in 2012 to review so-called offset deals - contracts that were meant to provide work for local businesses to allow them to benefit from the order - found evidence that national and international law had been violated in connection with those deals, the defense ministry said, without giving any further details of its findings.

Prosecutors in Germany separately investigated whether Airbus paid bribes to win the $2 billion contract. Airbus denies having done so.

On Friday, German prosecutors ordered Airbus to pay 81 million euros to settle the German investigation. The prosecutors said they did not find evidence of bribery but that Airbus had been unable to account for more than 100 million euros in payments to two shell companies.

Austria's former defense minister had said it would end the current Eurofighter program early because it was too expensive, although a newspaper report last month said Airbus was planning to offer incentives to encourage the country's new government to keep using the jets.

(Reporting by Kirsti Knolle in Vienna; Additional reporting by Sarah N. Lynch in Washington; Writing by Georgina Prodhan; Editing by David Holmes and Peter Cooney)

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