Sweden sanguine at Swiss jet purchase delay

The decision by the upper chamber of the Swiss parliament not to release funds for the purchase of new JAS Gripen fighter jets from Sweden has renewed doubt about the deal.

Sweden sanguine at Swiss jet purchase delay

On Tuesday, the upper house the Council of States approved the defence ministry purchase by 22 votes to 20, but blocked the necessary funds.

“I still regard this to be a yes vote for Gripen, the Swiss will revisit the question of financing,” Swedish Defence Minister Karin Enström told the TT news agency.

The Swiss Council of States failed by just one vote to permit the release of the funds, the newspaper Tages-Anzeiger reported. One-off expenses of over $21 million need to be approved by an absolute majority in parliament.

The Swedish prime minister also reacted with apparent calm.

“We knew there would be a democratic process and it is not yet finished,” Sweden’s Fredrik Reinfeldt told the TT news agency.

“It is important for Sweden to have Switzerland as a strategic partner, but at this moment I do not want to comment further before the process has finished.”

He also referred to the fighter jet fleet upgrade that Sweden itself has ordered from the Swedish defence contractors Saab.

“A strategic partner is a precondition for our own order to develop 60 planes,” he said.

The Swiss government opted in November 2012 to renew its fighter jet fleet with 22 JAS Gripen jets from Sweden. The price agreed came in at 3.1 billion Swiss francs ($3.3 billion).

The purchase has been hotly debated in Switzerland for months. Apart from whether the aircraft are actually needed, there is also the issue of guarantees from the Swedish government. The new series of Gripen jet is still being developed by Saab.

Until last week, it had looked as if the Council of States would wave through the purchase without question, Tages-Anzeiger said.

The Council’s security committee had already approved the deal.

“We were all surprised by the result,” said Social Democrat member of the house Roberto Zanetti, who considers the new aircraft unnecessary.

Zanetti said there had not been much criticism of the planned purchase during the debate in the chamber.

He said the result was a sign of the apparent uncertainty among the centre-right parties, who had appeared satisfied with the defence ministry answers to questions raised.

“Some centre-right parliamentarians had spoken about the risks attached to the deal, and that they wanted to look at the contract more closely,” Tages-Anzeiger quoted People’s Party parliamentarian Thomas Hurter.

“They complained that the draft contract was only in English.”

Hurter sits on the security committee of the larger house of parliament, the National Council.

The deal will now go to the National Council for further debate in June.

There Defence Minister Maurer is expected to meet with even more opposition to his armaments programme.

“I am convinced that the National Council will want to examine this business more closely,” Hurter said.

“After all, this aircraft was chosen on the grounds that it was cheapest.”

Morven McLean

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Fresh bribery claims in Swedish jet scandal

Swedish defence firm Saab paid around a billion kronor to shady middlemen as part of a controversial deal to sell fighter jets to South Africa, according to documents obtained by a Swedish tabloid.

Fresh bribery claims in Swedish jet scandal
A Jas 39 Gripen jet flies above Cape Town in South Africa. Photo: AP Photo/mbr/The Star

Saab's sale of 28 Jas 39 Gripen aircraft – later reduced to 26 – to South Africa has been tainted by scandal and corruption allegations ever since it took place back in 1999.

The Swedish defence giant has always denied any wrongdoing in the deal which was mainly carried out by a subsidiary owned by Saab and British BAE and has said that no evidence of any suspect deals has turned up in its internal investigations.

But according to Sweden's Expressen newspaper, internal BAE documents handed to the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), a UK-based government authority that investigates fraud and corruption, show that money was paid out to shady agents suspected of being involved in bribery.

According to the paperwork, 7.25 percent (or 13 billion kronor – $1.58 billion) of the total sales of the Gripen planes and the British Hawk aircraft was potentially handed over to secret agents. According to Expressen, the claims formed part of a UK investigation into bribery allegations linked to this cash.

Other classified documents published by the newspaper on Thursday suggest that BAE's former head of marketing for South Africa and Asia, Allan MacDonald, told SFO officers several years ago that Saab had been kept informed of all costs and the agents involved.

“I gave them more information than they had ever got before and they were informed about the arrangements with the agents on chief executive level. They knew,” the documents suggest he said.

In a statement to Expressen published on Thursday, Saab's press spokesman Sebastian Carlsson dismissed the claims that almost a billion kronor was handed to agents, but did not deny that large payouts were made.

“There's nothing strange about a person receiving compensation for the work they do. So I mean, that's not the problem, if there is a problem. The problem would in that case be what a person does,” he told the newspaper.

“If it was 7.5 or 6.5 or 4.5 or 10.5 percent [is irrelevant]. That's nothing, that's what it was like 'in the good old days'. But I can tell you that if back then you had these kinds of commission-based contracts in the export industry, the sums could sometimes be high,” he added.

Saab is one of the world's leading defence and security companies and has around 14,700 staff around the world. It is not connected to Saab Automobile.

Earlier this year it was ranked as one of the European arms companies best at tackling corruption by the Transparency International thinktank.