Nato chief was told of bribe

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The Independent Online
Brussels (AFP) - Willy Claes's future as secretary-general of Nato was in doubt yesterday as a 1988 bribery scandal widened to implicate both him and the Belgian Foreign Minister, Frank Vandenbrouke.

Mr Claes first denied then admitted that he was told at a meeting in 1989 that the Italian helicopter group Agusta had offered 50m francs (£1.1m) for his party's funds only weeks after Agusta had been awarded a $225m Belgian army contract for 46 helicopters.

On Tuesday he assured Nato ambassadors that he had not acted in any way improperly in connection with the affair, in which three former officials of his Flemish Socialist Party (SP) face bribery charges.

Etienne Mange, the head of the Belgian post office and former SP treasurer, said yesterday that he had told Mr Claes, Mr Vandenbrouke and Louis Tobback, then Interior Minister, of the Agusta offer. Although nobody has suggested Mr Claes knew of the bribery attempt, his failure to disclose what he was told raises questions about his judgement.

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