Reuters London

British fraud investigators had questioned Ministry of Defence (MOD) officials and former and current employees of an Airbus subsidiary in connection with allegations of corruption in Saudi Arabia, the aerospace and defence company said yesterday.

The Serious Fraud Office (SFO), which confirmed that unnamed individuals had been arrested at the weekend, launched a criminal investigation into allegations surrounding Airbus unit GPT Special Project Management in Saudi Arabia in August 2012.

The investigation hinges on allegations of bribery in connection with a $3.3 billion (R35.3bn) contract won by GPT to provide communications and intranet services for the Saudi National Guard, which protects the kingdom’s royal family.

“Airbus Group understands that four former and current employees were recently interviewed – along with MOD officials – as part of a wide-ranging SFO investigation into subsidiary GPT,” an Airbus spokesman said.

A spokesman for the SFO confirmed there had been arrests over the weekend but declined to comment on the number of people held for questioning or whether they were part of the investigation into the Airbus unit.

The UK Ministry of Defence declined to comment.

Allegations of corruption are not new to the defence industry, where companies tend to use individuals or third parties to help to broker deals to win lucrative contracts.

UK and US prosecutors are investigating allegations of bribery and corruption at Rolls-Royce Holdings in Asia.

Airbus has said it was co-operating with the inquiries.