Belgium accused of crooked fighter jet deal
10 February 2004
BRUSSELS – Illicit payments were made to secure a lucrative defence contract that saw Belgium sell 25 mirage fighter jets to the Chilean airforce in 1994, Belgian newspaper La Derniere Heure reported on Tuesday.
Citing Chilean magistrates currently investigating the affair, La Derniere Heure said the sale of the 25 reconditioned jets – which had originally been built in 1969 – revealed a web of corruption that included Swiss bank accounts, front companies in the British Virgin Islands and key players in Chile, Belgium and France.
“The Chilean military said they could have bought Israeli Kfir planes, Jaguars made by British aerospace, Russian MiGs or South African cheetahs. But they bought Belgian. Why?” asked the newspaper.
According to the Chilean magistrates, a number of well-placed figures in Belgium, France and Chile profited from a series of illicit payments totalling millions of dollars, which were linked to the sale.
People cited include Jacques Lefebre a former Belgian general turned defence industry lobbyist, who was found dead in Brussels hotel room in 1995. The Chilean magistrates say Lefebre was in Chile in 1992 and 1993. The investigators add that they believe Lefebre’s company made half a million dollars through ‘under the table’ payments linked to the sale of the Belgian jets.
Also mentioned are Chilean Senator Ramon Vega, who at the time of the sale was a senior commander in the Chilean airforce, and Vega’s son in law, a London-based Belgian business man.
According to the magistrates Vega and his son-in-law pocketed USD 2.5 million each from the deal. They both strenuously deny the allegations.
Many analysts say this latest affair has echoes of the Augusta scandal, which saw Italian aircraft manufacturer Augusta pay bribes to Belgian socialist politicians in return for a military contract.
That episode led to the resignation of four socialist ministers, the suicide of an army general, and the downfall of former Deputy Prime Minister Willy Claes as NATO secretary general.
[Copyright Expatica News 2004]
Subject: Belgian news