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.