Austria pressing fraud charges against Airbus over fighters

Austria's government is asking state prosecutors to press fraud charges of against Airbus and an affiliated company, alleging they overcharged the country for 15 combat aircraft and demanding refunds for the purchase

VIENNA (AP) -- Austria's government announced Thursday that it has asked state prosecutors to press fraud charges against Airbus and an affiliated company, alleging they overcharged for 15 combat aircraft and demanding refunds for the purchase.

The accusation against Airbus Defence and Space GmbH and Eurofighter Jagdflugzeug GmbH is based on Austria's purchase of 15 used Eurofighter Typhoon planes, in 2007 for 1.56 billion euros — $1.7 billion at the present exchange rate.

Finance Ministry official Wolfgang Peschorn said that Austria's claims could reach 1.1 billion euros ($1.17 billion).

He says the amount includes a refund for the purchase price minus depreciation and operating costs minus operating costs for an alternate system.

Officials say that even if those demands are rejected, Austria is owed the 183.4 million euros ($195 million) they say was overcharged.

Defense Minister Hans Peter Dozkozil spoke of "clear evidence" that Austria was "knowingly defrauded" by the other side. He suggested that Austria was overcharged in part, so that the Airbus could pay off unspecified "bribes" allegedly used to secure the deal.

Rejecting the accusations, Airbus spokesman Gregor von Kursell described them as apparently "contrived" and as a "political maneuver."

"We're hearing these allegations today for the first time — through the media," he said in an email. "The ministry neither informed us of these allegations, nor have we been called upon to make a statement."

The Eurofighter deal has long been a political football in Austria, with the final purchase decision dragging on for years amid criticism from the political opposition that the terms of the deal were opaque, and that the aircraft was too expensive and its capacities unneeded for a small neutral country.

The Eurofighter is built by Britain's BAE Systems, Italy's Leonard and Airbus, representing Spain and Germany.

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