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Austrian count in British bribery raid

An Austrian count is under investigation by British authorities for bribery in a case involving British Aerospace Systems BAE.

The British Special Fraud Office SFO had asked Austrian colleagues for support in their investigation into Count Alfons Mensdorff-Pouilly, 55, who is accused of "active and passive  bribery" during weapons deals involving Austria buying the Eurofighter, and the Czech Republic buying the Swedish Saab Gripen in 2004.

Investigators from the Serious Fraud Office arranged for the agent, Count Alfons Mensdorff-Pouilly, to be raided in Austria.

Austrian prosecutors said the raids were carried out at the request of the SFO investigating allegations of bribery and money laundering.

The Austrian police seized a quantity of documents from the home and office of Mensdorff-Pouilly, who has been accused of receiving millions of pounds from BAE for promoting deals. He is the Viennese laird of a Scottish castle.

The SFO's investigations into BAE have been controversial as the government stopped its inquiry into Saudi arms deals. Critics have alleged that the government is soft on BAE and has placed the company above the law and effectively made it immune from prosecution - an accusation denied by ministers.

Attention has turned to other cases of alleged BAE bribery which the SFO has been investigating. Critics have been sceptical about the prospect of any progress in these investigations.

However the SFO has promised to pursue and complete its investigations into alleged BAE corruption in countries including Tanzania, Romania, and South Africa.

The SFO has been investigating corruption allegations in a BAE deal in the Czech Republic. The US Department of Justice is also understood to be investigating the Czech deal as part of its inquiries into the British company.

US officials have alleged for many years that the Czech deal was corrupt.
Mensdorff-Pouilly, who bought Dalnaglar castle in Perthshire, is one of three agents who allegedly handled corrupt payments in the joint Anglo-Swedish deal in which the Czech Republic agreed to lease Gripen fighter planes for £400m in 2004.

Documents obtained by Swedish state television identified secret payments of more than £4m from BAE and alleged that the money was used to pay bribes. According to the documents, BAE agreed to pass the 55-year-old count up to £40m if the aircraft sale was achieved.

It is alleged that in the end, a smaller sum was paid through a Panama-registered company when a smaller contract was signed.

Today, Gerhard Jorosch, spokesman for the Austrian prosecutors, told the Guardian: "We searched the premises of Mr Mensdorff-Pouilly at the direct request of the SFO last Wednesday". He added that the SFO is investigating alleged bribery and money-laundering in the sale of Gripen fighter jets to Hungary and the Czech Republic.

He added : "Quite a lot of documents were seized and transmitted to the SFO. The SFO and Austrian prosecutors are studying the material".

It is understood that two of the count's business associates were also raided. Harald Schuster, the count's lawyer, said he denied all wrongdoing. "The Serious Fraud Office does not have anything concrete. They are fishing for something else."

Last year, the count denied receiving offshore payments when the Swedish TV programme was broadcast.

He said his company, MPA, had been paid since 1992 for consultancy services in eastern Europe.

Mensdorff-Pouilly, the husband of a prominent Austrian politician, was interviewed last year over the corruption allegations.

In a separate controversy he was named in 1995 on a tape recording which alleged that he was the conduit for secret payments from BAE to party funds in Austria in return for sales. He was acquitted for lack of evidence.

According to an Austrian press report yesterday (Tues), the raids were also carried out at the request of Swiss prosecutors who are investigating BAE over alleged money-laundering. The Swiss prosecutors would not comment.

Also under scrutiny is a 2001 deal in which the Hungarian government agreed to lease 14 Gripen planes.

The SFO declined to comment. BAE said: "BAE Systems continues to fully cooperate with the ongoing SFO investigation. As this is a continuing criminal investigation, it would be inappropriate for us to comment on its substance."

austriantimes.at


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