Kuwaiti inquiry accuses former officials of squandering money in Airbus Helicopters deal

The country's audit bureau was asked in 2017 to check all documents related to the deal and submit a report to the cabinet

In December 2017, Kuwaiti authorities opened an investigation to verify the conditions under which the Airbus Helicopters contract had been negotiated. AFP
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A Kuwaiti investigation has accused several former officials and army figures this week of mismanaging €349 million in a French Airbus Helicopters deal linked to corruption allegations.

“The committee concluded that ministers, deputy ministers and leaders in the army were responsible for many actions and decisions that were marred by negligence and weakness in following up employees’ negligence in their work, which resulted in many damages to the ministry and public funds,” said Adel Al Damkhi, the MP in charge of the panel investigating the deal.

The Kuwaiti parliamentary committee was formed more than a year ago to investigate the defence ministry’s $8.7 billion deal to buy Eurofighter warplanes and another $1 billion deal to buy 30 Caracal military helicopters from Airbus.

Members of the investigative panel held meetings with senior military officials last year after accusations were raised about the inflated price of the Eurofighter jets and some technical problems with the two Caracal helicopters from Airbus Helicopters as well an allegation of bribery from a Lebanese middleman who facilitated the deal.

In August 2016, Kuwait signed a contract for the delivery of 30 Caracal helicopters after confirming its interest in the Airbus Helicopters a year earlier, during a visit to Paris by Sheikh Jaber Al Mubarak Al Sabah, who was prime minister at the time.

In December 2017, Kuwaiti authorities opened an investigation to verify the conditions under which the contract had been negotiated with Airbus Helicopters. A report at the time alleged that a Lebanese middleman demanded a commission of $71 million from Airbus in connection with the deal.

Subsequently, Kuwait's defence ministry also suspended further deliveries of the Airbus Caracal helicopters after the first two delivered had unspecified engine problems.

Eventually, 26 of the 30 Caracal helicopters were delivered by the end of last year.

The committee said it found evidence that some officials in Kuwait’s defence ministry had covered up for the French company and accused several officials who they suspected of concealing a crime regarding the disclosure of commissions.

Mr Al Damkhi did not specify which former officials were accused of mismanagement in the Airbus Helicopters deal.

Airbus Helicopters told The National it had “no comment” after the Kuwaiti investigation into the deal.

A spokesperson for the French embassy in Kuwait told The National that it does not yet have an official statement on the deal given that it was between a private company and the Kuwaiti government.

Mr Al Damkhi alleged last October that “some gangs” attempted to interfere in the panel's investigation and alter its findings, adding that the panel’s main aim was to reach conclusions that would help stop the squandering of public funds.

Airbus Helicopters is a subsidiary of the parent company Airbus which has been embroiled in a number of previous corruption allegations.

Airbus was investigated by British, French and US prosecutors between 2016 and 2023 for bribing public officials and hiding payments as part of a pattern of worldwide corruption. French prosecutors said at the time their investigation involved transactions in several countries, including Kuwait.

Kuwait’s government last January referred two senior military officers for prosecution in a major corruption case related to the country’s purchase of Eurofighter Typhoon combat planes, after an investigation into the jets’ improperly inflated price.

Kuwait ordered 28 Eurofighter Typhoon jets valued at about $8.7 billion from a consortium of European companies in 2016.

Investigations revealed that the officers “caused grave damage to public money by issuing inflated bills to the manufacturer that exceeded the total value agreed upon in the main contract”, the official Kuwait News Agency reported at the time.

Updated: January 11, 2024, 6:19 PM