Czech general fuels Saab bribes suspicions

A former head of the Czech army Sunday fuelled corruption suspicions surrounding a warplanes deal, claiming that he and other senior military staff were not told how the decision was taken.

“We did not know the way in which that conclusion was reached,” Jiri Sedivy, who was head of the general staff from 1997-2002, told Czech public television.

Britain’s Serious Fraud Office and Swedish state prosecutors said last week they were looking into allegations that an Anglo-Swedish consortium of BAE Systems and Saab paid bribes to land a contract to sell 24 Gripen fighter aircraft.

The investigation was launched following reports on Swedish television of unexplained payments linked to the deal. Czech police have said they will cooperate in the probe following a request from London.

The fighter deal was a 2001 agreement worth 60 billion Czech koruna ($2.8 billion dollars) that was later cancelled.

Prague’s left-dominated government decided to lease 14 Gripen planes from Sweden at a fraction of the cost of the earlier deal.

Speaking on the same Czech television programme, leading rightwing Civic Democrat politician and former finance minister Vladimir Tlusty said the initial Gripen deal encouraged suspicions of corruption.

“The purchase of the Gripen fighters was from the start a very suspicious deal. A so-called tender took place in which there was only one participant, the price for which they should have been bought was also very high,” he said.