Former BAE agent charged with bribery

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The Independent Online

An Austrian Count and former agent of the defence giant BAE Systems yesterday appeared before magistrates in London charged with trying to bribe government officials in Central and Eastern Europe, on behalf of the company.

The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) had earlier charged Alfons Mensdorff-Pouilly with conspiracy to corrupt yesterday, specifically that he made payments or agreed to make payments to government officials in Austria, the Czech Republic and Hungary.

The SFO confirmed yesterday that BAE is still under investigation for its alleged role in suspected corruption in Eastern Europe, Tanzania and South Africa. A spokesman said there is no timetable for the inquiry, but it is understood that the SFO will ask the Attorney-General for permission to prosecute the group.

A spokeswoman for BAE said: "Now that proceedings have commenced in this matter, the company is unable to comment and it would be inappropriate to do so."

Mr Mensdorff-Pouilly's case relates to Austria's purchase of the Eurofighter military aircraft and the Czech Republic's deal to buy a number of the Saab Gripen in 2004.

As part of the investigation, his offices in Austria were raided by local officials at the request of the SFO last week, when documents were seized.

He was first arrested by police in Carlisle last year when travelling between his Perthshire castle and his home in Vienna. Mr Mensdorff-Pouilly is married to Maria Rauch-Kallat, a former Austrian government minister and a leading figure in the centre-right OVP Party.

The case is part of a wider investigation into suspected bribery by BAE, which was launched by the US Department of Justice.

In 2006, the then Attorney-General Lord Goldsmith ordered the SFO to abandon its investigation into alleged bribes worth £60m paid to Saudi Arabian officials in pursuit of a £10bn defence contract, which BAE eventually won.

The decision came after the personal intervention of the then prime minister Tony Blair, who claimed the investigation, which could embarrass the Saudi royal family, could threaten British national security. The SFO's appeal against the decision was dismissed last year.

The current Attorney-General, Baroness Scotland, now has to give consent for the current case to proceed.