Austrian count says innocent in arms deal trial

VIENNA Wed Dec 12, 2012 10:17am EST

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VIENNA Dec 12 (Reuters) - An Austrian count accused of covertly helping Britain's biggest arms group win business in central and eastern Europe insisted on Wednesday he served only as a well-connected adviser who had nothing to do with bribes.

As his money laundering and perjury trial got under way in Vienna, Alfons Mensdorff-Pouilly entered not guilty pleas on all counts and painted himself as a man whose acumen and family ties propelled him from struggling poultry farmer to prosperity.

Prosecutor Michael Radasztics accused Mensdorff-Pouilly, 59, of using 12.6 million euros ($16.4 million) he got from BAE Systems via shell companies to influence weapons deals in eastern Europe a decade ago after the fall of the Iron Curtain.

"The files show a series of indications that bribes were paid here," he told the court, but said he did not bring bribery charges because he could not prove who may have been paid, when or where.

Wearing a grey suit and red print tie, Mensdorff-Pouilly faced a gaggle of photographers and cameramen before testifying of his beginnings trading game, poultry and snails from his inherited estate in southeastern Austria, now a successful hunting lodge.

It was not until his cousin married Tim Landon - a BAE executive and former British secret agent known as the White Sultan who once organised a coup in Oman - that the down-at-heel aristocrat began to see fortunate smile on him.

Landon, who died five years ago, introduced him to BAE, which hired the count to advise on why it had lost out on a fighter jet deal in Austria. It eventually broadened his remit to include a potentially vast new market in the former communist countries of eastern Europe that opened after 1990.

"If you have a bit of a feel for politics and many relatives and friends in these countries, then you have the right connections," Mensdorff-Pouilly told the court. "I got information that was not so easy to get."

BAE Systems, Europe's biggest defence company, was fined $450 million by the United States and Britain in 2010, following long-running corruption investigations at home and abroad into defence deals in Saudi Arabia, Tanzania, Sweden, the Czech Republic and Hungary.

It is not a defendant in the Austrian trial and has said it was not asked by Austrian authorities to participate with any inquiry.

Mensdorff-Pouilly faces five years in jail if convicted in the case, which is scheduled to run into early 2013.

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