AN AUSTRIAN count accused of covertly helping BAE Systems – Britain’s biggest arms group – win business in central and eastern Europe has insisted he served only as a well-connected adviser who had nothing to do with alleged bribes.
Alfons Mensdorff-Pouilly denies money laundering and perjury at his trial in Vienna and painted himself as someone 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 he got from BAE Systems through 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.
The money Mensdorff-Pouilly received from BAE Systems was probably used to bribe decision-makers in central and eastern Europe, prosecutors have claimed. Wearing a grey suit and red print tie, Mensdorff-Pouilly – full name Alfons Eduard Alexander Antonius Maria Andreas Hubertus Christoph Graf von Mensdorff-Pouilly – faced a scrum of photographers and cameramen before testifying about how he started out trading game, poultry and snails from his family estate in south-east Austria, now a thriving 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 Systemswas fined $450 million by the United States and Britain in 2010, following long-running corruption investigations 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 help with inquiries.
“A full investigation of these matters was concluded in February 2010. The Austrian authorities have not asked us to participate with any enquiry nor notified us of its subject matter,” the company said.
Mensdorff-Pouilly faces five years in jail if convicted. A verdict is expected next year.