VIENNA: Austrian prosecutors believe there is little basis for their fraud investigation into the Eurofighter consortium's US$2 billion deal in 2003 to sell jets to the Austrian government, two media reported on Thursday, citing an internal report.
In 2017 the then Austrian government launched legal proceedings against the Eurofighter consortium - comprising Airbus, Britain's BAE Systems and Italy's Leonardo - alleging fraud and wilful deception linked to the order of fighter planes.
Austria's Defence Ministry said at the time that following an investigation it believed Airbus and Eurofighter had misled Austria about the purchase price, deliverability and equipment of the jets.
Airbus and the consortium have denied the allegations, which are being investigated by Austrian prosecutors. The investigation has also prompted the current government, which took office in December 2017, to put off a decision on whether to scrap its Eurofighter fleet.
However, according to an internal document obtained by ORF radio and news platform Addendum, two prosecutors told a meeting last month that there were insufficient grounds to open an investigation into the consortium in the first place.
The meeting on April 1 between prosecutors and Justice Ministry officials was held to discuss next steps in ongoing Eurofighter investigations. One prosecutor told the meeting that "he had difficulty understanding why the investigation was begun at all", ORF said, citing minutes from the meeting published in the document.
The investigation was launched in response to a complaint filed in 2017 by then Defence Minister Hans Peter Doskozil about the sale of the jets.
"Apparently no one wanted to tell Minister Doskozil that no grounds for suspicion existed," ORF and Addendum, which also obtained the internal report, said, quoting the unnamed prosecutor's comments at the meeting.
The prosecutor now overseeing that investigation agreed with that statement, Addendum said.
The prosecutors' office for economic affairs and corruption, which is handling the Eurofighter investigation, was not immediately available for comment.
Their investigation continues.
(Reporting by Francois Murphy and Alexandra Schwarz-Goerlich; Editing by Susan Fenton)