Austrian count arrested for Saab Gripen bribes

An Austrian count has been arrested on suspicion of attempting to bribe politicians to buy Swedish firm Saab's Gripen aircraft.

Austrian count arrested for Saab Gripen bribes

Count Alfons Mensdorff-Pouilly is alleged to have received 13 million euro ($16.5 million) from Saab’s British partner BAE in payment.

Mensdorff-Pouilly is an agent for UK defence firm BAE Systems, a partner of the Swedish firm Saab.

British prosecutors suspect that he bribed Hungarian and Czech decision-makers to encourage them to choose the Gripen fighter aircraft for their respective country’s air force.

He is also suspected of similar offences in connection with Austria’s purchase of the Eurofighter, a direct competitor to the Saab Gripen.

The count was arrested on Friday in Austria and is being detained in Vienna. He is not expected to be granted bail due to the risk of him fleeing from justice and destroying evidence.

Mensdorff-Pouilly is married to the former Austrian health minister Maria Rauch-Kallat.

The news agency APA, which cites reports from news magazine Profil, reveals that the count is thought to have received 13 million euro ($16.5 million).

APA reports that that count is also suspected of forging documents in order to make the payments appear legitimate.

Mensdorff-Pouilly legal counsel confirmed that the count paid sums of money to the Czech Republic, but only to business people – not to politicians.

Swedish prosecutor Christer van der Kwast is investigating bribery in connection with the export of the Gripen aircraft.


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.