Wednesday, December 06, 2023

U.K. Makes Arrest in Probe Into Jet-Engine Parts Scandal

Fraud watchdog launches criminal investigation into AOG Technics with dawn raid

The Wall Street Journal
By Benjamin Katz
December 6, 2023 11:28 am ET

The U.K. has launched a criminal investigation into alleged fraud at an aircraft-parts supplier suspected of selling thousands of jet-engine components with fake safety certificates that have been found in dozens of jets, including some operated by major U.S. airlines.

The Serious Fraud Office said Wednesday it had raided an address and arrested an individual as part of its probe into AOG Technics. The London-based company’s lone director and shareholder is Jose Zamora Yrala.

AOG Technics didn’t respond to a request for comment, and a lawyer who previously represented Zamora said he no longer acted for him.

Aviation regulators in the U.K., U.S. and European Union earlier this year issued notices warning airlines that it suspected AOG of having provided false documentation for engine components. Those parts, ranging from simple nuts and bolts to more critical turbine blades, went into engines manufactured by General Electric and France’s Safran, which are used to power one of Boeing’s best-selling jets.

GE and Safran subsequently took AOG to court demanding records to help them identify and track where the unapproved parts had been supplied. The engine makers won the case, and AOG has provided the documentation.

Suspected unapproved parts have since been found on more than 100 engines, including on jets operated by United Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Southwest Airlines. GE said it had also found the parts in its own workshops. 

The SFO said Wednesday that its investigators along with officers from the U.K.’s National Crime Agency raided a residential site in London before dawn, seizing material that it said would help advance its investigation and assess whether to proceed with any prosecution. Typically, investigators will seize items including laptops and cellphones, which are then assessed by digital forensic specialists.

“This investigation deals with very serious allegations of fraud involving the supply of aircraft parts, the consequences of which are potentially far reaching,” SFO director Nick Ephgrave said.

Since regulators’ warning in the summer, airlines around the world have been foraging for any affected parts that might have made it onto their aircraft.

AOG positioned itself as a middleman between the manufacturers of spare aircraft components and maintenance workshops. The parts it is accused of providing are suspected to have been purchased second-hand and resold as new, which aviation authorities warn can jeopardize safe operations of those engines. 

Zamora, who was born in 1988 in Caracas, Venezuela, founded AOG in 2015 after having worked for a series of aircraft-maintenance companies while moonlighting as a techno DJ, performing at some of London’s biggest nightclubs.

AOG’s headquarters are listed in British corporate records as being at a virtual office provider in central London. GE, Safran and CFM—a joint venture of the U.S. and French companies—alleged in their lawsuit that AOG had created false profiles on LinkedIn for nonexistent executives to help bolster the legitimacy of its operation.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration typically investigates as many as a half-dozen reports of suspected unapproved parts each year, according to its website, with those cases typically referred to the U.S. Justice Department.

While aviation regulators require the close monitoring of components for both authenticity and quality, the tracking and supply of spare parts typically relies on a paper-based system that the industry has warned is easy to falsify.

Concerns about the potentially suspect parts come at a time when airlines are still hiring to replenish the ranks of their maintenance arms after some longtime employees left during the pandemic. Part manufacturers are also stretched as they seek to meet growing demand from Airbus and Boeing, which are ramping up production of new aircraft, while also struggling to meet demand stemming from a rapid recovery in air travel.

Original article: