US govt fines Fokker $21 m for violating sanctions

A Fokker-70 aircraft chartered by Dutch airline KLM. (Photo: Wikicommons)

Dutch aerospace firm Fokker has been hit with a US$21 million penalty by the US government for selling US-made aircraft parts and goods to customers in Burma, Iran and Sudan, in violation of trade sanctions.

According to a statement released Thursday by the US Attorney’s Office in Washington DC, Fokker Services violated US laws by engaging in “illegal transactions involving the export and re-export of aircraft parts, technology and services to customers located in US-sanctioned countries, specifically Iran, Sudan and Burma” between 2005 and 2010.

More than 1,100 shipments of US-made spare, repaired or exchanged parts were sent to the three countries during this five-year period and the gross revenue amounted to approximately $21 million, the statement said.

Half of this amount will be forfeited as a claim settlement to the US Department of Justice, while the other $10.5 million will be paid out to the US Commerce and Treasury departments.

“For years, Fokker Services treated US export laws as inconveniences to be ‘worked around’ through deceit and trickery,” said US Attorney Machen in the statement, adding that this action sends a “clear message” that companies trying to circumvent US trade laws will face consequences.

The “schemes” initiated by Fokker were described as “work-arounds” in internal company documents, and they included withholding aircraft tail numbers to US-based repair shops or providing false numbers; US- and UK-based repair shops were usually told that the parts were simply going to be kept as stock.

The Dutch company revealed these transactions in a June 2010 disclosure to the US Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security and the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.

Fokker Technologies, the parent company of Fokker Services, said in a statement on its website that after they submitted the disclosure, the company conducted an internal investigation into the number of transactions that violated US trade sanctions, and employees involved in this criminal violation went through a “disciplinary review.”

“FS [Fokker Services] identified transactions related to the sale of maintenance parts and repairs for Fokker aircraft, to which trade restrictions of the United States applied,” the statement said. “FS sincerely regrets the historic conduct. The current management of FS is firmly committed to compliance.”

Sean Turnell, a Burma economics expert from Australia’s Macquarie University, told DVB by email that Fokker likely came forward with its 2010 disclosure because criminal charges, along with much higher fines, were looming.

“The [$21 million] fine is stiff, but the penalties are not as great as they could have been,” Turnell said. “Fokker has many interests still in aviation services, some of which are located in the US. They needed to protect these.”

With Burma’s economic landscape changing so rapidly, especially in terms of potential aviation contracts as the country opens up, Turnell said that the Dutch company must have sense that it was “better to settle old problems now in the hope of better times ahead.”

The aircraft supplier first came under scrutiny in relation to Burma after a Fokker-100 aircraft operated by Air Bagan – which is owned by Tay Za, a Burmese tycoon with close links to the junta — crash-landed in Heho Airport in Shan State, killing two and leaving 11 injured.

By DENE-HERN CHEN (DVB)

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