Brazil opens fighter jet tender inquiry

An inquiry has been opened by the Brazilian prosecutor after claims that the preference for the French Rafale over the Swedish Gripen NG and US F/A-18 in a multi-billion dollar military tender were against "economic principles".

Brazilian prosecutors have responded to a request from a Brazilian individual to open the inquiry into the tender to supply the Latin American nation with modern fighter jets, a prosecution source told AFP Wednesday of prosecutor Jose Alfredo de Paulo Silva’s decision.

On Monday, officials said President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva had now put off any announcement on the winner of the bid, which had been due after Easter, until mid-May.

The finalists now battling it out in the final stages of the tender are France’s Rafale made by Dassault, Sweden’s Gripen NG by Saab, and the F/A-18 Super Hornet manufactured by US giant Boeing.

But Lula’s stated preference for the ultra-sophisticated, semi-stealth Rafale jet has angered the air force, which preferred the much cheaper and easier-to-maintain Gripen.

The Rafale has never been sold abroad, but after Lula’s comments it is now seen as the front-runner to clinch the contract to supply some 36 fighter jets to the South American nation.

“The Brazilian government, because of external political factors, has decided to choose the Rafale, ruling out the Gripen and Super Hornet which were put forward at a lower price. That is against economic principles,” the Brazilian opponent who registered the complaint said.

A spokesman for interior ministry told AFP the prosecutor would now “gather information to decide whether… there is a civil case to answer.” The inquiry could last as long as a year, the source added.

Throughout the competition, Lula and Defense Minister Nelson Jobim have underscored technology transfer as their top priority so Brazil could not only build its own next-generation fighters but also export them.

Jobim said Wednesday that he would deliver his report on the tender to Lula next Wednesday, April 14th.

“I have to finish it and present it next week,” Hobim told lawmakers from the foreign relations and defense committee.

Lula will then call a meeting of his national defense council, and announce his decision after hearing its advice.

Jobim stressed that the decision will take into account “the development of the national industry and the total transfer of technology.”

He added it was “not an international tender in which there are criteria to take into account such as the price. It’s a choice by the government which will take into account strategic, long-term criteria.”

France’s jet bid was bolstered by the fact that Brazil has a strategic pact with Paris that has already seen it sign a 12-billion-dollar deal in early 2009 to buy 50 helicopters and five submarines from France.

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