The Swedish Prosecutor considers but hasn't yet decided to investigate Gripen sale to South Africa

open | 28 February, 2007

JOHANNESBURG. Did Saab know about BAE Systems offshore payments to individuals who did important sales work for Gripen in South Africa?

That is one of the many questions the Swedish state prosecutor Christer van der Kwast will have to consider if he intends to investigate the Swedish arms manufacturers sale of 28 JAS Gripen to South Africa.

But Mr van der Kwast hasn’t yet, as reported in some media, decided weather the authority will investigate Saab’s sale of the 28 Gripen jet-fighters to South Africa.

The Swedish State Prosecutor is however thinking of investigating the matter.

“When it comes to suspected bribes during the sale of JAS Gripen to South Africa, a decision on the question of an investigation, will be communicated at a later stage”, the authority said in a press statement on 26 February.

Meanwhile the State Prosecutor said that he would commence an investigation on suspected bribes during the aborted sale of Gripen to the Czech Republic (in the end it became a lease agreement between Sweden and the Czech’s instead).

Saab has been contacted and, says the authority, has promised to cooperate and hand over all relevant documentation relating to its dealing with BAE Systems in the deals in South Africa and the Czech Republic.

The authority also disclosed that the Czech Republic deal had been investigated but that the investigation was closed last year due to lack of evidence.

The State Prosecutor states that it started cooperate with the British Serious Fraud Office (SFO) early February. SFO, as Africascan has reported in earlier stories, is investigating both South Africa and the Czech Republic.

SFO’s investigations have disclosed a web of commissions paid to companies and individuals for their part in the sale of Gripen and Hawk to South Africa.

Among them are (see Africascan’s links) former South African government defense advisors and prominent businessmen.

Serious Fraud Office is still waiting, after 9 months, for an answer on a request to spread the investigation to South Africa, including monitoring bank transactions by the involved companies and individuals.

The matter is a hot potato in South Africa, where the National Prosecution Agency hasn’t shown much of an interest and the matter seems to be with the SA Police at the moment.

The general view among analysts is however that SFO’s determination will warrant that possible bribes during the sale of Gripen/Hawk will not be swept under the carpet.

The British Government, on national security grounds, has already forced SFO to drop an investigation of BAE Systems deals in Saudi Arabia. That argument, says analysts, cannot be used when it comes to South Africa.

In the SFO document, as reported in British and South African newspapers, Fana Hlongwane, a former advisor to the then Minister of Defense, received $ 8 million in commissions between 2002 and 2005 from a BAE offshore company for his part in the Gripen sale.

The investigation wants to establish weather these payments were legitimate commissions or illicit payments to South African politicians.

Africascan Comment Swedish authorities are not too keen to find out weather bribes have been paid during the sale of Gripen to either South Africa or the Czech Republic.

But the SFO investigation cannot be ignored, which is why the Swedish State Prosecutor must step into the ring. At the least the authority has to be seen as it is doing something on these deals.

The Swedish Attorney General seems to limit its requests to Saab to what SFO is interested in – that is what BAE Systems have been up to. That restriction puts the blame on BAE Systems. Saab’s line is that it has done nothing wrong, but that it can’t account for what BAE Systems might have done.

The question is, yet again, were Saab aware of payments of commissions to the individuals and companies in question? If not, how can payments for Gripen related consultancy work be done without Saab’s knowledge? In other words, how can consultants be involved in Gripen sales activities, and be paid for it, without Saabs knowledge?

If no information flowed between Saab and BAE on the matter, it is fair to suspect that responsibilities were purposefully designed to make sure that Saab should be kept in the dark. And if that is the case the Swedish Prosecutor is not likely to get that much out of Saab.

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