I was going through the news in Népszabadság on Monday, March 2, 2009, when I discovered a short piece on the arrest of Count Alfons Mensdorff-Pouilly, the "lobbyist" for BAE Systems, partner of the Swedish firm Saab in the sale of Gripen fighter planes. I usually don't read the comments of readers, but this time I noticed a long English-language piece that had a familiar ring to it. No wonder because it turned out to be my own! What I didn't notice is that the person who quoted me said: Copyright: http://esbalogh.typepad.com/hungarianspectrum/2007/08/the-gripen-affa.html It was written a long time ago. On August 13, 2007, shortly after I began this blog.
The story intrigued me as soon as I heard about the Swedish investigations that led to the Czech Republic, Austria, South Africa, and most likely Hungary. Alfons Mensdorff-Pouilly has Hungarian connections. His mother is Hungarian and he speaks the language well. He is known as an avid hunter and spends quite a bit of time on his Hungarian estate.
One of the allegations against Mensdorff-Pouilly is that, in order to procure the sales of the fighter planes, he passed on quite a bit of money to politicians as well as to businessmen. From the latest news items it seems apparent that the Swedes and Austrians have proof of the Czech and Austrian connections. For the time being they are not talking about Hungary.
The first article I found on Mensdorff-Pouilly's arrest was in an English-language Swedish paper, The Local. Sweden's English News (February 28, 2009). According to the Swedish paper Mensdorff-Pouilly altogether received thirteen million euros for his services. British prosecutors suspect that he bribed Hungarian and Czech decision-makers to encourage them to choose the Gripen fighter aircraft for their countries' air force. The Swedish paper also seems to know that bail in Mensdorff-Pouilly's case is unlikely because of the "risk of him fleeing from justice and destroying evidence." In addition, APA reported that the count is also suspected of forging documents in order to make the payments appear legitimate.
Profil, an Austrian paper that was the source of a number of Hungarian articles on the subject, seems to know that the count is also accused of money laundering. In the Czech case, the paper specifically mentions Milos Zeman and Ivo Svoboda, prime minister and minister of finance of the Czech Republic, as recipients of Mensdorff-Pouilly's bribes. The Czechs just as the Hungarians had originally planned to buy F-16 fighter planes from Lockheed-Martin but suddenly the Czech government changed its mind. This is exactly what happened in Hungary. Viktor Orbán, then prime minister, against the advice of experts from the ministry of defense, abruptly decided to buy Gripen planes instead of the American ones.
As I mentioned in my August 13, 2007 blog Ágnes Vadai, undersecretary of the ministry of defense, was named to head a investigation into the matter. In 2007 Vadai appeared several times in the media and reported "irregularities" but nothing specific. And then there was a huge silence. Most likely few people in Hungary today even remember the Gripen affair and those who do or whose memory was suddenly jiggled by the news about the arrest of Mensdorff-Pouilly simply say that this is what happens in Hungary. Political corruption is never punished. Everything is covered up. I must say that I was very disappointed in Ágnes Vadai at the time because the information she provided could charitably be described as wishy-washy.
Well, today Vadai was interviewed by György Bolgár in connection with Mensdorff-Pouilly's arrest and the old accusation of the count's possible bribe to Hungarian politicians. I must say that today's description of the findings of the committee was much more revealing. What are the findings? Missing documents. Every important piece of paper concerning the purchase of these fighter planes is gone. The letter in which the minister of defense asked for bids is gone, the bids themselves cannot be found, there is naturally no mention of Mensdorff-Pouilly in any government document. So there is nothing to implicate any of the politicians involved in the decision to buy the Swedish planes. The only thing Vadai could bring up as indirect evidence: the suddenness of the decision and that the prime minister went against the advice of the military experts and alone decided in favor of the Gripen planes. Just when everybody was sure that Hungary was planning to purchase the American planes. And this is mighty little to act upon.
Therefore one can only hope that the British and the Swedes have evidence or that Mensdorff-Pouilly will spill the beans. He has already admitted to bribing businessmen but so far remains tight-mouthed about politicians. In August 2007 I finished my blog saying: "Stay tuned; this one could be juicy." A fit conclusion for today's blog as well.