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CORRUPTION

Hungary to probe Gripen deal

Hungary will probe alleged improprieties in a 2001 tender for fighter jets that was awarded to the Anglo-Swedish consortium BAE Systems and Saab, Defence Minister Imre Szekeres said Monday.

The Hungarian media has widely reported on an investigative story by Sweden’s SVT television, which alleged that an Austrian businessman, Alfons Mensdorff-Pouilly, received $8 million to lobby the Hungarian government on behalf of the company.

“Due to the importance of the case in Hungary, we must analyse the Gripen decision, the tender and its consequences,” Szekeres said in parliament, adding that the government backed setting up a parliamentary commission to probe the case.

Hungary decided to lease 14 Gripen fighters for 10 years, from 2006 until 2016, when the planes would become the property of the Hungarian military. The deal was worth 210 billion forint, or ($280 million) at the current exchange rate.

In June of 2001, the centre-right government, now in opposition, announced that Lockheed Martin’s F-16 had won the fighter jet tender, but days later the decision was reversed and the contract was awarded to BAE Systems and Saab.

This is not the first time that allegations of corruption were leveled at BAE Systems and Saab.

British and Swedish prosecutors probed allegations in February that the consortium paid bribes to land a contract to sell 24 Gripen fighter aircraft to the Czech Republic.

More recently, BAE Systems has been under investigation in Britain for allegedly setting up a slush fund to secure arms deals with Saudi Arabia.

But the investigation was shelved last December after the British government’s most senior legal adviser, Attorney General Lord Peter Goldsmith, said it could harm Britain’s national and international interests to continue.

BUSINESS

Sweden slips in global corruption rankings

Sweden has dropped from third to fourth in an annual ranking comparing the levels of perceived corruption around the world.

Sweden slips in global corruption rankings
How corrupt is Sweden? Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Its Scandinavian neighbour Denmark shared first place with New Zealand in this year's Corruption Perception Index (CPI), released by anti-corruption campaign group Transparency International on Wednesday and ranking how corrupted countries were seen to be in 2016.

Both Denmark and New Zealand were given a score of 90 on the 0 to 100 scale (highly corrupt to very clean), followed closely by Finland and Sweden, which scored 89 and 88 respectively.

While still in the top-five of 176 countries, Sweden found itself pushed down one notch from last year and the group's Sweden office warned that this was no time to be complacent.

“Sweden's good performance in the 2016 index does not mean that we are spared from corruption in the public sector,” Ulla Andrén, chairwoman of Transparency International Sweden, said in a statement.

“Over the past year we have unfortunately seen how core values have wavered considerably. Leading figures have turned out to lack an ethical compass and corrupt behaviour has damaged trust in various public institutions.”

READ ALSO: Why Denmark is world's least corrupt country

Major Swedish institutions were rocked by scandals last year, including claims of cronyism and cover-ups at the state auditor Riksrevisionen and tax agency Skatteverket. Some of the country's largest businesses, such as Telia and Ericsson, have also faced allegations of illicit payouts.

“We believe that everything colloquially referred to as cronyism is corruption,” Lotta Rydström, executive secretary of Transparency International Sweden, told The Local.

“Transparency International's definition of corruption is wider than just bribes: 'Corruption is abuse of entrusted power for personal gain', which includes nepotism, buddy contracts and so on.”

“I would probably also say that several bribe-related incidents in the business world have shown that Sweden is not as spared (from corruption) as many think,” she said.

Rydström warned that the corruption index does not cover local and regional councils, where much of the political decisions are made in Sweden. Municipalities and county councils make up around 70 percent of public administration in the country.

“A high rating does not mean that we can beat our chest and say we are still almost the best student in the classroom. Good can get better and there is plenty to work on. Public procurement, municipal auditing and whistleblower protection are some of the issues we are working on.”

As a whole, Transparency International said that no nation in the world – Sweden included – is doing enough to fight corruption.

“There are no drastic changes in Europe and Central Asia in the Corruption Perceptions Index 2016, with only a few exceptions. However, this does not mean that the region is immune from corruption. The stagnation does not indicate that the fight against corruption has improved, but quite the opposite,” it wrote in the report.