BAe adviser linked to £4m helicopter bribes scandal

A British Aerospace adviser at the centre of £4.4m bribery allegations has been accused of staging secret meetings with the Austrian defence minister and the head of the country's air force in a bid to land a £237m aircraft deal. Count Alfons Mensdorff-Pouilly, who BAe insists is not authorised to carry out deals, is alleged to have held the meetings in the company of his wife - the Austrian environment minister. The minister, Maria Rauch-Kallat, is widely expected to resign today.

The allegations are set to increase pressure on BAe to explain why one of its advisers was named as the conduit through which £4.4m in "commissions" would be paid to the two ruling Austrian parties in return for the contract to supply 36 attack helicopters and a transporter airplane. The contract has not yet been put out to tender.

Two senior politicians from the Austrian People's Party and the Social Democratic Party resigned last week after the publication of a tape recording of them discussing the distribution of 2 per cent in commissions from the deal. In the recording, they say BAe will be given the contract and they will receive commissions through Count Mensdorff-Pouilly.

BAe has admitted that the count is paid to advise on business and political events but it steadfastly denies knowing of any proposed deal or the offer of commissions. A spokesman last night said the count was not authorised to act as an intermediary. Thecompany does not make helicopters but it is bidding to supply and adapt Franco-German Eurocopter Tiger attack helicopters for the British government. It is thought that the Austrians may have asked for a similar package.

Count Mensdorff-Pouilly and his wife deny being involved with the politicians who resigned. An article in the magazine News, which first made the allegations, says today that the count and his wife held a number of meetings with Josef Bernecker, the headof the Austrian air force, and with Werner Fasslabend, the defence minister.

The magazine's insistence that Ms Rauch-Kallat should resign over the meetings was gaining support last night among politicians who felt they were incompatible with her position.

The article also raises questions about the count's role with BAe. The company presents him as no more than an adviser, but it refused to speculate on who might be employing him to hold discussions with the defence minister and the head of the Austrian air force.

A spokesman was unable to confirm an Austrian report that Anthony Stephens, its director of marketing and co-ordination for central Europe, attended the count's 40th birthday party at his castle near Vienna in September 1993. Nor was he able to confirm aclaim in News that several meetings with the defence minister were held at its adviser's home.