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Sweden's Saab denies corruption on SAfrica fighter jet deal

by Staff Writers
Stockholm (AFP) May 20, 2011
Swedish defence group Saab said Friday an ongoing probe into reports it had secretly paid millions of euros to ensure South Africa did not back out of a deal to buy 26 fighter jets had turned up no evidence of wrongdoing.

"Our investigations are continuing, but nothing has emerged so far in the numerous investigations previously carried out by the Public Prosecution Authority to prove that anything illegal took place," Saab president and chief executive Haakan Buskhe said in a statement.

"Saab has a zero-tolerance policy regarding bribery," the company insisted.

The comments came just days after an investigative news programme on commercial TV4 said it had new evidence of corruption connected to Saab's 1999 deal to sell 28 -- later reduced to 26 -- JAS Gripen fighter jets to South Africa.

The programme published what it said was a 2003 contract between Saab subsidiary Sanip and Fana Hlongwane, the advisor to the South African defence minister at the time, promising to pay him millions of euros (dollars) in bonuses if South Africa did not back out of the Gripen deal.

The document showed Sanip had agreed to pay Hlongwane over 50 million kronor (5.6 million euros, $7.9 million) between 2003 and 2005, and that a further 30 million was scheduled to be paid later this year.

"We take the accusations very seriously and have therefore conducted our own enquiries in order to investigate what took place," Buskhe said in Friday's statement.

"Our investigations so far show that there has not been any payments made by Sanip to the consulting firm (of Hlongwane). Nor did Saab know anything about the contract and did not sanction it," he insisted.

He went on to acknowledge that "in hindsight, we can state that Saab should have had greater control over Sanip's operations, (but) at the same time, there is nothing in the published contract to show that any irregularities were committed."

The TV4 corruption allegations, which came as Buskhe and Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt were in Brazil where Saab is in the running for a multi-billion-dollar contract for 36 new fighter jets, are not new.

Saab's Gripen jet sale to South Africa and its cooperation with shareholder BAE Systems have already faced several probes in Sweden, South Africa and Britain, but no wrongdoing has ever been proven.

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