`Bribes plot' man is BAe adviser

British Aerospace admitted last night that one of the men named in connection with an alleged £4.4m bribery plot in Austria was an adviser. Count Alfons Mensdorff is said to have been the alleged conduit through which commission would be paid to t wo political parties in return for ensuring that a £237m contract for combat helicopters was awarded to BAe.

Last night, the company said the count was retained to advise on local business practice but it denied being involved in any plot to attract custom from the Austrians. In a statement issued through his lawyers, Count Mensdorff also denied any involvement.

The Austrian government was plunged into chaos on Wednesday after the resignation of one of two senior MPs who were secretly taped discussing plans to award the contract to BAe and split the commissions between their parties. It was widely rumoured yesterday that the environment minister, Maria Rauch-Kallat - the wife of Count Mensdorff - would also resign.

The scandal centres on the publication of a tape-recording of a conversation between Peter Marizzi, the Social Democratic Party business manager, and Hermann Kraft, the Austrian People's Party military affairs spokesman. The two parties form a left-rightcoalition.

During the conversation, recorded inside the Austrian parliament building last February and published yesterday in News magazine, the men say orders for 36 combat helicopters and a BAe-146 transporter aircraft, similar to the Queen's, would be given to BAe once specifications had been finalised by the Austrian military. No contract has been put out to tender yet.

In return, they say they will get 2 per cent commission which will be divided between their two parties. They name Count Mensdorff as the BAe representative and Mr Kraft assures Mr Marizzi that the commission will be paid via the count.

The parties were shaken on Wednesday when Mr Kraft resigned, apparently admitting his role in the alleged plot, but saying he had acted without the knowledge of his party or the defence ministry. Mr Marizzi is still in office, but is coming under increasing pressure to resign.

BAe does not make helicopters but it has put in a bid to become the prime contractor to supply attack-helicopters for the Ministry of Defence. If successful, the company is expected to buy and adapt the French/German Eurocopter Tiger combat helicopter for the British military. It could conceivably supply the Austrians on the same basis.

A spokesman said: "Count Mensdorff is retained by BAe as an adviser on a normal business relationship. That is to say, he is paid a retainer fee to advise on technical matters."

He said the count advised on local business practice and on channels through which the company should operate. However, when asked about the taped allegations against the company, he replied: "We don't recognise any of that at all. That is not our style of business."

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