New resignation in BAe `bribe' scandal

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The Independent Online
A leading Austrian politician has resigned from parliament after being named in a £4.4m bribes scandal alleged to involve British Aerospace. Peter Marizzi yesterday resigned his post as business manager of the Social Democratic party, a member of the country's ruling coalition and his seat in parliament. He acknowledged no guilt, but said that the controversy over the affair would overshadow his work and hurt his party.

The Austrian coalition government was thrown into turmoil last week following the resignation of another key politician implicated in the plot: the defence spokesman of the conservative People's Party, Hermann Kraft. Mr Kraft acknowledged that he had made a mistake.

They were both allegedly involved in a scheme to win British Aerospace a helicopter contract worth £237m in return for kickbacks paid to both their political parties.

The scandal erupted following the publication in an Austrian magazine, News, of a transcript of a tape on which the two men can be heard discussing the deal.

Mr Marizzi initially told reporters that he could not remember the conversation. Allegedly, it took place in the Austrian parliament building on 7 February 1994, and concerned possible kickbacks of Asch 70m (£4.4m).

The two men say on the tape that orders for 36 combat helicopters and a BAe-146 transporter aircraft would be awarded to the British company once specifications had been finalised by the Austrian military. In return, they would get a 2 per cent commission. BAe does not currently make helicopters but the company is bidding to become prime contractor to the Ministry of Defence for the purchase, adaptation and supply of combat craft.

The two Austrian politicians named a third man, Count Alfons Mensdorff, as the intermediary in the deal and described him on the tape as a "representative" of BAe. A spokesman has confirmed that Count Mensdorff, a former turkey farmer, was employed as a consultant by the company, but has vigorously denied any knowledge of the alleged bribery plot.

There is mounting political pressure on Count Mensdorff's wife, Maria Rauch-Kallat, the Austrian environment minister, to resign from office. The two were married last year - just two months after the tape was recorded.

No contract for helicopters has been awarded to BAe. The Austrian defence ministry said that a planned renewal of the army's helicopter fleet remained in the preliminary stages.