AirAsia shares plunge after Airbus bribery allegations

AirAsia shares fell 10 per cent, while AirAsia X shares dropped 12 per cent. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

KUALA LUMPUR (REUTERS) - Shares of Malaysia's AirAsia Group and unit AirAsia X fell on Monday (Feb 3), after allegations by Britain's Serious Fraud Office (SFO) that Airbus paid a bribe of US$50 million (S$68.4 million) to win plane orders from Asia's largest budget airline group.

AirAsia shares fell 10 per cent, while AirAsia X shares dropped 12 per cent.

Malaysia's securities regulator said on Sunday it will examine whether AirAsia Group and unit AirAsia X broke securities laws, after British prosecutors accused executives of receiving bribes from Airbus for buying planes.

AirAsia said it had never made any purchase decisions that were premised on an Airbus sponsorship, and that it would fully cooperate with Malaysia's Anti-Corruption Commission.

The allegations came to light on Friday when Airbus agreed to a record US$4 billion settlement with France, Britain and the United States. Prosecutors said it had bribed public officials and hidden payments as part of a pattern of worldwide corruption.

Britain's SFO said last Friday that between October 2013 and January 2015, Airbus' then-parent EADS paid US$50 million to sponsor a sports team that was jointly owned by two people described as AirAsia Executive 1 and Executive 2.

The SFO said the executives were rewarded for an aircraft order from Airbus, an allegation AirAsia denied late on Saturday.

"The Securities Commission Malaysia will examine the allegations and review all available evidence to determine if there is any breach of securities laws," Mr Syed Zaid Albar, the regulator's chairman, said in a statement.

Directors who act with the intent to cause wrongful loss to their listed firms can face jail or fines, he said.

Malaysia's anti-graft agency has already launched a separate investigation into the allegations.

AirAsia said in its Saturday statement that it had not been involved with the SFO's investigation of Airbus or given any opportunity to provide clarification. It denied any wrongdoing.

Reached for comment by Reuters on Sunday, the company pointed to the statement that said it would fully cooperate with "the relevant authorities where required". Airbus said it had no comment.

AirAsia, Asia's largest budget airline group, runs an all-Airbus fleet of 274 planes.

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