I don’t think we will ever find out who bribed whom in 2001 when the Orbán government suddenly decided to purchase the Swedish-British Gripen fighter jets instead of the American F-16s.
In the last ten years there was off and on coverage of this strange case. I myself dealt with it at least three times. My first piece on the subject was written on August 13, 2007. Shortly afterward, on November 26 of the same year, I had to return to the topic because of a parliamentary committee that was investigating the questionable purchase of the Swedish planes. And finally on March 4, 2009 I wrote at some length about the arrest of Count Alfons Mensdorff-Pouilly, the “lobbyist” for BAE Systems, partner of the Swedish firm Saab, in the sale of Gripen fighter planes. According to Swedish and Austrian newspapers, the Count, who speaks Hungarian fluently since his mother is Hungarian, worked as a lobbyist for BAE Systems and spent millions on kickbacks to Czechs and Hungarians who “convinced” their governments that the best buy would be the Saab-built Gripen planes.
In my first piece on the Gripen affair I mentioned that Ágnes Vadai, then undersecretary of the ministry of defense, was named to head an investigation of the matter. They investigated and investigated but found nothing specific that would point the finger.
Two years later Ágnes Vadai told the public a little more. The first problem the committee faced was the lack of documentation. Every important piece of paper concerning the purchase of these fighter planes was gone. The letter in which the minister of defense asked for bids was gone, the bids themselves couldn’t be found, and naturally there was no mention of Mensdorff-Pouilly in any government document. The only thing she could come up with as indirect evidence was the suddenness of the decision and the fact that the prime minister went against the advice of the military experts and alone decided in favor of the Gripen planes.
Meanwhile the Hungarian prosecutors were seemingly uninterested in the British, Swedish, Czech, and Austrian court proceedings concerning this bribery case although, according to the latest information, the Hungarian prosecutor’s office did get in touch with its counterparts in those countries where Mensdorff-Pouilly’s illegal activities were discovered. Allegedly they were assured that there was no Hungarian connection to the Mensdorff-Pouilly case.
I must say that I am skeptical of the veracity of this new information that was shared during György Bolgár’s telephone interview with Pál Sinku, a counselor from the chief prosecutor’s office. Although Sinku was very different from the usual spokespersons of the prosecutor’s office–he was friendly and tried to be helpful, I still doubt that the Hungarian inquiries were specific enough. Why would Péter Polt’s prosecutors be eager to shed light on a bribery case that might involve Viktor Orbán and Fidesz? After all, the purchase of the Gripen planes took place during the fall of 2001.
Profil, a well respected Austrian weekly, has been after Mensdorff-Pouilly for a long time. Unfortunately, the latest article entitled “Count Ali and the weapon billions” is not available online. However, a Hungarian translation of the article was published this morning on Galamus. Although it is rather difficult to decipher the exact meaning of the references, a few telling details might advance our understanding of the Hungarian bribery case a bit. The minutes of the meetings of the “lobbyists” talked about “payments to the socialists” and about “the swine” who must receive 5% of something that I find difficult to interpret: “ipari elem.” Industrial element? As a result of this extra 5% to “swine” the deal was going to be more expensive. That is, the bribe would cost more. The original price was $8 million but because of this extra 5% they will need another $4.7 million, so the phony off-shore company the lobbyists set up for money laundering purposes must receive extra cash. In addition, Mensdorff-Pouilly had to pay off five other people who allegedly received 1% of the purchase price. That amounted to 180 million Austrian schillings or 13 million euros.
And now let’s go back to Ágnes Vadai, who today is a member of DK and thus an independent member of parliament. Not surprisingly, she was interviewed by Olga Kálmán last night. She couldn’t say much about her investigation because it was declared to be a state secret at the time, but when she was asked whether she has any suspicions about who the five people were who received this incredible amount of money Vadai answered in the affirmative.
Let me add something here. My suspicion is that among these five there were not only Fidesz people but socialists as well. First of all, there are the minutes that specifically talk about “payments to the socialists.” Second, looking through the Hungarian newspapers of the time it seemed to me that the socialists didn’t complain as loudly about this very suspicious Swedish deal as they should have. Ferenc Juhász, who later became minister of defense (2002-2006), was outright enthusiastic. At least Hungary wasn’t buying the “obsolete” American F-16s.
Mind you, today Ágnes Vadai claims that Hungary didn’t need any new fighter jets, period. The MiG-29s needed only the once-every-nine-year general service, but the Ministry of Defense in the hope of purchasing new jets simply neglected their upkeep. Moreover, Viktor Orbán at that point hated everything Russian. Thus they spent an inordinate amount of money on fourteen used Swedish planes.
At the time government members declared repeatedly that the planes were practically free because of promised Swedish investments in Hungary. I must say that I am not aware of any really large Swedish investments after 2001. Moreover, just about a year ago Hungary had to renegotiate the deal because the Hungarian government was unable to meet the payments. The price is getting steeper and steeper.