Bribery suspected in plane sale to Iraq

July 15, 2015

Alleged corruption may thwart Czech sale of L-159s to Iraq

Prague, July 15 (ČTK) — The Czech Defense Ministry is to gain 780 million Kč for the sale of 15 L-159 military aircraft to Iraq, but the deal, which was struck some time ago, seems to be endangered once again over what some Iraqi sources call suspected corruption, daily Lidové noviny (LN) writes today.

Haitham al-Jubouri, a member of the financial commission of the Iraqi parliament, says he is ready to bring the affair to the Iraqi supreme court, LN writes, citing the Iraqi server Safaq News.

Jubouri’s colleague Iskandar Watoot, from the parliament’s security and defense committee, too, says corruption worth millions of dollars has accompanied the purchase of the L-159 subsonic combat planes from the Czech Republic, the daily writes.

The critics, however, have not submitted details about their suspicion. Watoot said they plan to discuss the issue with the Iraqi air force command.

The Czech company Aero Vodochody, which mediates the deal for the Defense Ministry, dismissed any unusual steps being taken in connection with it, LN writes.

“We learned about alleged corruption linked to the sale of our L-159s to Iraq from the Iraqi press. The Iraqi bodies have not contacted us so far,” Tereza Vrublová, from Aero Vodochody, is quoted as saying.

“Our company definitely has nothing to fear. The deal has been checked within the licensing procedure and smoothly approved by the U.S. administration that has extraordinarily tough legislation for fighting corruption,” Vrublová told the paper.

The Czech embassy in Iraq officially does not know about the problem.

“I have no clue about corruption accompanying the sale of the L-159s,” Alexandr Langer, the Czech ambassador to Baghdad, has told LN by phone.

“The Iraqi political scene is very turbulent. I suppose that they have are only been accusing each other,” Langer said, referring to Iraqi politicians.

This view is shared by several experts from the Czech Foreign Ministry and Defence Ministry whom LN addressed.

It is possible that the affair has been triggered to influence the political struggle between hostile domestic parties, the experts said.

The purchase of the L-159 Alca planes could considerably raise the Iraqi military’s capability of intervening against Islamic State (IS), the daily points out.

“There is a long-term risk of the deal getting bogged down. The negotiations with Baghdad have been complicated, the political situation changes very often there,” LN quotes a Czech ministerial official who requested anonymity.

The planned sale of the Czech redundant and never used L-159s to Iraq was announced by then-defense minister Alexandr Vondra in 2012 but progress in the negotiations was made in April 2014 only.

In the following months, Baghdad said it will buy 11 mothballed L-159s and another four that have been used by the Czech air force and that would be immediately used to train Iraqi pilots and combat IS radicals.

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