Bribery secured Austrian tank deal, says Czech newspaper

The Czech newspaper Mlada fronta Dnes reported that Austrian firm Steyr-Daimler-Puch Spezialfahrzeuge (SSF) had bribed Czech politicians to secure a tank deal.The newspaper said the deal was the Czech Defence Ministry’s purchase of 107 Pandur II light wheeled tanks from SSF for 538 million Euros in March 2009.It added that one of its journalists posing as a businessman had met with former SSF managers Wolfgang Habitzl and Herwig Jedlaucnik in a Vienna hotel last month and used a hidden camera to film their discussion. It published online yesterday what it claimed were excerpts from the discussion.The newspaper said the SSF managers had confirmed that their firm had diverted three per cent of the payment money for the tanks to Czech parties in return for the contract.Habaitzl and Jedlaucnik, however, claimed they had engaged in a “bad joke” and told their Czech visitor, whom they said they had recognised as a journalist, what “he had wanted to hear.” Jedlaucnik said: “We may have gone too far.”The newspaper said on its website yesterday that the two SSF managers had engaged in a “retraction.”Jedlaucnik, a former SSF project manager in the Czech Republic, said that Czech lobbyist Jan Vlcek might have been behind the newspaper’s report since he had tried and failed to be hired by SSF in 2002 and might have sought revenge.Zdenek Skromach, the deputy leader the the Czech Social Democratic Party (CSSD), demanded clarification of the newspaper’s allegations and threatened to take legal action in both Austria and the Czech Republic.The Czech Defence Ministry had originally signed a contract with SSF for the purchase of 199 tanks at a price of 771 million Euros in 2006 but abrogated it in December 2007, citing poor quality and late deliveries as the reasons.