Publication: Sunday Independent Issued: Date: 2007-03-11 Reporter: Fiona Forde

Swedes Join UK, Germany in Arms Deal Probe 



Sunday Independent




Fiona Forde

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A Swedish anti-corruption unit has joined its counterparts in Britain and Germany in investigating allegations that secret commissions were paid to South Africans to secure sales orders in this country's multibillion-rands arms procurement programme.

In 2001, the British aerospace company BAe Systems, in a joint venture with Saab, of Sweden, sold 24 Hawk jet-trainer aircraft and 28 Gripen fighters to South Africa. Saab, which is 20 percent owned by BAe, made the Gripens.

Christer van der Kwast, Sweden's director of public prosecutions, told The Sunday Independent that "there are a lot of problems concerning the South African deal.

"To what extent this will lead to further investigations or prosecutions, I cannot say at this point [but we] expect to reach a decision in the coming days."

Van der Kwast is trawling through reams of paperwork, chasing money trails and gleaning information from a number of sources.

Those sources include the serious fraud office of the British police in London, where investigations are advanced into allegations that BAe bribed South Africans. The British police refuse to give any information about their investigations.

A spokesperson for Saab South Africa said that though his company was co-operating with Van der Kwast it "denies accusations of illegal business methods, but naturally takes the allegations seriously".

He said Saab was working to establish the facts pertaining to the allegations of corruption. Previous allegations against Saab had "proved to be completely unfounded", he said.

Van der Kwast launched an enquiry late last month into similar allegations against Saab made in connection with the aborted sale of Gripen planes to Czech Republic, also in 2001.

The allegations were to the effect that a sweetener of R1 billion was offered to three senior Czech government officials.

The exact nature of the BAe-Saab joint venture in South Africa is not clear and so it is uncertain, if bribes were paid, which of the two companies would have been culpable.

Linden Birns, spokesperson for BAe Systems in South Africa, which employs about 500 people in plants across the country, denies any wrongdoing by the British aerospace giant.

"BAe Systems' business in South Africa forms part of a continuing inquiry by the serious fraud office in the UK following the allegations against us. BAe Systems rejects the allegations."

But Sweden joins Britain and Germany in claiming that getting a slice of South Africa's massive arms procurement budget carried a hefty price tag.

Van den der Kwast's counterparts in Germany are investigating a commission of R3 billion allegedly secretly paid to Chippy Shaik, then head of the government's acquisition programme in the arms deal, to help secure for the German Frigate Consortium a R12 billion order for four warships for the South African Navy.

In London, the police are focusing on the R30 billion BAe-Saab aircraft deal from which eight South African government officials are alleged to have benefited to the tune of R1 billion.

Throughout the long-running arms deal corruption saga, and despite the heightened international attention the deal has attracted in recent months, the South African government has remained tight-lipped.

From the president down to departmental spokespeople, the line is always the same: The 2001 investigation carried out by the joint investigation team found that the deal with the government was not corrupt.

"And that conclusion will stand, whatever investigation the British are doing," Thabo Mbeki said recently. But the joint investigation team, comprising the National Prosecuting Authority, the public protector and the auditor-general, is due to meet on Thursday and might feel differently.

With acknowledgements to Fiona Forde and Sunday Independent.