Sweden extends Saab bribery probe to Hungary

STOCKHOLM, Sept 11 (Reuters) - Sweden's top corruption prosecutor said on Tuesday he was widening a preliminary probe into alleged bribery concerning leasing deals for Saab SAABb.ST Gripen fighter jets.

Chief Prosecutor Christer van der Kwast, who earlier this year began investigating a deal under which the Czech Republic leased 14 Gripen fighters from Sweden in 2004, said he would also investigate a separate deal for Gripens in Hungary.

“We have expanded the investigation and it will now include Saab’s and BAE Systems’ business dealings in Hungary as well,” van der Kwast told Reuters.

“There are links to the same people, in part, who are being looked at as regards the Czech Republic,” he said, declining to provide any further details.

Saab spokesman Peter Larsson said the decision to expand the probe to Hungary was disappointing and said the firm was assisting authorities in their inquiries.

Swedish authorities decided in February to investigate a deal under which Gripen fighters were leased to the Czech air force after a Swedish television report claimed bribes had been paid to secure an original purchase agreement for the aircraft.

The purchase deal was later scrapped and converted into a leasing agreement.

Both Saab and BAE Systems BA.L, which owns 20 percent of the Swedish firm and jointly marketed the Gripen with Saab at the time, have denied any wrongdoing.

Like the neighbouring Czech Republic, Hungary signed a deal with Sweden for the lease of 14 Gripens. Hungary planned to buy the jets after a lease period of 10 years, Saab said.

“We believe we have not done anything wrong and feel secure in that knowledge,” Saab’s Larsson said. “It is also important to point out that we are working across the board with the prosecutor and cooperating as much as we possibly can.”

Larsson also said Saab Chief Executive Ake Svensson had been questioned by authorities, a “natural step” in light of the scope of the probe.

In connection with the February decision to open an investigation into the Czech Gripen deal, van der Kwast said he was also considering looking into South Africa’s purchase of 28 Gripens in 1999, the first export order for the aircraft.

Van der Kwast said on Tuesday he was waiting for more results from an investigation by British authorities into the South African deal to ascertain the level of Saab’s involvement before deciding whether to begin a probe of that deal as well.