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BAE chief quizzed in suspected bribery probe *(Shell has been described as playing a money-laundering role in BAE/Saudi oil-for-arms scandal)

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By Michael Peel and Sylvia Pfeifer

Published: October 22 2008 23:31 | Last updated: October 22 2008 23:31

A top BAE Systems executive and ex-defence official has been questioned by investigators over a suspected bribery plot involving a Viennese count to win European arms contracts, the Financial Times has learned.

Julian Scopes – BAE’s former head of government affairs and former private secretary to Alan Clark, the late Tory defence minister – was interviewed at Guildford police station on Sunday by the Serious Fraud Office, people familiar with the matter said.

The questioning of Mr Scopes highlights the top-level business and government interests that have turned the BAE case into an explosive affair for both the company and ministers.

Mr Scopes, 55, was interviewed as part of an SFO probe into a suspected conspiracy to bribe people in high positions over arms deals in countries including Austria and the Czech Republic, people close to the matter said.

Mr Scopes – a former regional managing director for Europe for BAE – declined to comment. The SFO declined to comment on Mr Scopes but said a 55-year-old man had been arrested and interviewed on Sunday on suspicion of corruption, before being released on police bail to appear next year.

Mr Scopes – who worked at the Ministry of Defence for more than 20 years – was one of BAE’s most senior executives during his time as head of government relations. He was seen as key in helping smooth dealings between the company and the MoD on important equipment programmes and in promoting BAE’s interests with government officials.

Mr Scopes was appointed to head BAE’s Indian operations in September in what was seen as a sign of the importance of a country that the group has identified as one of its seven main markets.

Mr Scopes was questioned on the same day as investigators arrested and bailed Count Alfons Mensdorff-Pouilly, who was intercepted as he travelled from his Scottish stately home back to Vienna. The count worked as a consultant for BAE but denies all wrongdoing, his lawyer told the FT this week.

UK, Swedish and Czech authorities have been probing a 2001 agreement – later cancelled – for BAE and Saab of Sweden to supply 24 Gripen fighters worth Kc60bn (then £1.1bn) to the Czech military. The BAE deal is one of a number being probed by the SFO since it caused an international outcry in 2006 by scrapping a probe into the group’s supply of tens of billions of pounds of arms to Saudi Arabia.

BAE, which has always denied wrongdoing, declined to comment on Mr Scopes.


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