FBI to probe Gripen scam
25. 11. 2009 6:01
Shady bank transfers connected to Gripen scandal went through Erste Bank, say two Austrian bankers
- In 2002, the cabinet of Miloš Zeman (Social Democrats - ČSSD) was in charge of replacing the army's ageing fleet of Soviet built Mig-21s with twenty-four JAS 39 Gripen fighter jets from the British-Swedish consortium BAE Systems/SAAB. The cabinet approved the 60 billion crown (2.8 billion US dollars) purchasing contract in April but failed to get approval by the Senate.
- In 2004, the Czech Army signed a contract with BAE Systems/SAAB to lease - rather than purchase - 14 Gripen fighter jets for 20 billion CZK.
- The accounts of BAE Systems led the British Serious Fraud Office to investigace whether the company spent large sums of money on bribes in a bid to get Czech lawmakers to support the deal.
Prague/Vienna - The American Federal Court may soon investigate not only the privatization of Czech bank, Česká spořitelna but also the Gripen corruption scandal.
Two former Austrian bankers - Hans Leitner and Peter Andahazy - are accusing the Erste Bank of channeling bribes to politicians and officials in Central and Eastern Europe, including the purchase of the state stake in Česká spořitelna.
Moreover, they also claim there were shady bank transfers and cash flow going through the Erste Bank connected to the Gripen corruption scandal.
The bankers are planning to file the lawsuit by the end of the year.
The same people involved
According to the bankers, the same people who have been involved in the Erste Bank illegal activities were involved in the Gripen case.
"Business in the whole Europe is mutually so intertwined that the same people that have been involved in the Erste Bank's corruption activities were involved in the Gripen corruption case," Hans Leitner told Aktuálně.cz.
"Besides, there are suspicions that some of the cash flow went through the accounts of the Erste Bank or its subsidiaries. Any bank should know its clients and should monitor their suspicious transfers," Peter Andahazy added.
The Erste Bank has dismissed all the allegations. The bank claims its business is strictly legal and no bribes have ever been given. It downplays the bankers' statements, arguing they want to get revenge for being fired.
The bank managers were laid off this spring on suspicion of money laundering, illegal gold sales and illegal launch of a subsidiary. The Austrian court has acquitted both of them.
Intending to restore their reputation, they decided to take legal action against the Erste Bank with the American Federal Court. They believe the Americans will conduct an independent investigation and will issue a fair verdict.
The Erste Bank is registered with New York's stock market, having a New York bank license, which allows the bankers to take legal action against the bank in the US.
Leitner and Andahazy have declined to give specific names of individuals involved in both corruption cases. Having consulted the lawyers, they say they have to provide all the evidence first to the Federal Court.
New light on old case
The investigation of the American authorities may shed new light on the case which has proved to be a hard nut to crack.
In 2002, the cabinet of Miloš Zeman (Social Democrats - ČSSD) decided to buy twenty-four JAS 39 Gripen fighter jets from the British-Swedish consortium BAE Systems/SAAB. Instead of buying the Gripen fighters, the government ended up leasing the aircraft.
The investigation of the Swedish, Czech and British police came to the same conclusion: there were bribes but there is no evidence of concrete individuals.
All three countries have faced accusations that they were not willing to carry out thorough investigation. First of all, the teams that were in charge of the Gripen scandal were suspiciously understaffed.
That is not the case with the Americans. They have shown interest in proving bribery and corruption. It may be due to the fact the Americans offered their planes in a number of countries but Gripen always won.
No deal struck
The new evidence the bankers are talking about may influence the verdict of Britain's Serious Fraud Office, which has been investigating to determine whether or not Czech lawmakers had accepted bribes from the BAE Systems.
Miroslav Kalousek has been linked to corruption scandals before. Now he is one of the leaders in the newly formed political party TOP 09.
According to BBC, the company faces a penalty of up to 1 billion pounds for paying millions of pounds to government officials, including the Czech politicians, to win purchasing contracts.
At first, it looked like the company will strike a deal with the Serious Fraud Office to pay the penalty and thus avoids a lengthy process. But no deal has been closed and the anti-corruption office has begun to prepare a lawsuit.
However, to prove the BAE Systems guilty will be difficult, Reuters reports.
In the meantime, the Swedish anti-corruption office has stopped investigating the case, hoping the deal would be struck. The Swedes have gathered the most damning evidence against the Czech government.
The Swedish public service television reported that the key figure in bribing the Czech politicians was British Steve Mead. The Swedish press said the middle men were Austrian Alfons Mensdorff-Pouilly, Czech Richard Háva and former Canadian minister Otto Jelinek. Mensdorff-Pouilly was arrested in Austria this year. He is believed to be a friend of Czech lawmaker Miroslav Kalousek.