D efense aviation major Gripen, a contender for the $ 12 billion 126 Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) tender issued by the Indian Air Force (IAF) has become further embroiled in already long-standing corruption allegations.
Saab Aerospace’s wholly-owned subsidiary Sanip is under investigation in South Africa over the sale of 26 Gripen fighters to the country in 1999 and last January, even Nobel Peace Laureate Desmond Tutu has called for the deal to be thoroughly scanned for wrongdoing.
Swedish news agency Tidningarnas Telegrambyra reported his interview given to Sveriges Television (SVT), in which he said, “They held the bribes out there like a carrot. Of course we could have said no, theoretically, but when you’ve been poor for a very long time and someone offers you 20 million …”
The South African politician likely to become the next president, Jacob Zuma is suspected of taking bribes in the deal according to the agency and documents obtained by Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter from the South African apex court raise issues of corruption against Sanip.
A search warrant that was issued to investigate transactions between the company and an adviser to the then South African defense minister yielded these documents last November.
Tutu claims Sweden acted recklessly and pressured South Africa to buy the Gripen fighters and has reportedly called for the whole deal to be abandoned.
In another instance, Swedish news website The Local has reported the Friday arrest of an Austrian count in Vienna, who is suspected of attempted bribery of politicians in return for the purchase of Gripen fighters.
Count Alfons Mensdorff-Pouilly who is an agent for British Aerospace (BAE) (a partner of Saab) is alleged to have received 13 million euro ($16.5 million) BAE, according to news agency APA and news magazine Profil. APA also reported the count to also be suspected of forging documents in order to make the payments appear legitimate.
The count, who is married to former Austrian health minister Maria Rauch-Kallat, is suspected by British prosecutors of having bribed Hungarian and Czech government officials to push through the purchase of the Gripen fighter their air forces. The Czech Republic leased 14 aircraft after a deal for the purchase of 24 aircraft was abandoned following corruption allegations. Former Czech head of general staff Jiri Sedivy told Czech public television in 2007,”We did not know the way in which that conclusion was reached.”
Hungary too operates 14 Gripen fighters and in 2007 initiated an investigation into allegations of bribery in the lease-purchase deal it made for the aircraft. The Swedish Air Force operates 204 Gripen fighters Thailand has placed an order for six of the aircraft.
As reported by StratPost, at the recently concluded Aero India 2009 Bob Kemp of Gripen said the aircraft has had a good year with increased sales. “We’re supplying the South African Air Force. We’re also in the campaign in India and Brazil. And we believe that Gripen offers tremendous capability to these air forces that are moving through transitional periods,” he says, adding, “But we started the process and I’m delighted to say the Royal Thai Air Force chose the Gripen last year and now we’ll hopefully move on to other campaigns in other countries.”
Mensdorff-Pouilly is also suspected to have done the same with the Eurofighter Typhoon fighter, pushing its sale to Austria. His legal counsel confirmed that the count paid sums of money to the Czech Republic, but only to business people – not to politicians. The Local says Swedish prosecutor Christer van der Kwast is investigating bribery in connection with the export of the Gripen aircraft.
Attempts to get a response to this issue from Gripen officials were not successful at the time of publication as the concerned officials were said to be traveling and unavailable.