Former foreign minister caught discussing corruption around military contract on hidden camera

There was a huge development in a scandal surrounding a large military contract on Tuesday, when Swedish TV broadcast secretly made recordings of former Czech foreign minister Jan Kavan. He says that Czech politicians took bribes linked to a deal to purchase Gripen supersonic jets from the British-Swedish consortium BAE Systems/Saab. In the end the Czech Republic leased rather than bought the planes, but the allegations remain. And suspicions of corruption have been fanned by Mr Kavan's implication that a Czech police investigation could be influenced.

This is an excerpt from the Swedish TV documentary, featuring an undercover reporter and Jan Kavan:

Reporter: "Would it be possible to have an effect on the police investigation?"

Mr Kavan: "I would think that it's not out of the question but I would discuss that directly and not necessarily on the phone."

Reporter: "But it could be possible?"

Mr Kavan: "I think so, yes."

Fredrik Laurin is one of the three Swedish reporters who made the documentary:

Fredrik Laurin, photo: www.fgj.seFredrik Laurin, photo: www.fgj.se "What we did was we set up this business intelligence company that pretended to work for BAE, although we never said that but we made it look like we worked for BAE and then we approached, if not everyone then most of the members of those governments who were involved in major decisions on the Gripen deal because those governments and a few other people in the Czech business and political life were indicated to us either as having received bribes or as being possible receivers of bribes. So we basically had a whole palette of people that we let the ESID company [the fictitious company] approach and Kavan as being a former foreign minister was obviously someone who should be approached."

So from the information that you've gathered what can you actually say about the corruption here in the Czech Republic that surrounded the Gripen deal?

"We know from our sources that the Saab Gripen campaign did pay money to the then Czech government. It was done through an Austrian according to our source within the Gripen campaign and the money went to Ivo Svoboda who then distributed the money among other government ministers. That is what the information tells us."

Did your colleague really leave Prague in haste for fear that someone was coming after him?

"What happened was that we approached several people in Prague under the disguise of being the business intelligence company. Most of them flatly denied talking to us. Some of them spoke to us but didn't say anything and some said things, like Kavan. And when he had spilled the beans, we were in a situation where we realised that this was potentially very damaging for Kavan and for others and there were no small interests in this deal - there was big money and they were very influential people, so let's not stay here longer than needed. Let's get to another jurisdiction and to a place where it's not so easy to tap our mobile phones etc. And therefore we decided to leave Prague. I want to point out that there was no threat against us.

"But at the same time, one must remember that we were in the Czech Republic where someone just recently was sentenced to twelve years in prison for contracting a murder of an investigative reporter and that someone was a person who was a close associate one time of Mr Kavan. I'm talking about Srba. I'm not saying that Kavan was implicated in that case or that he in any way was threatening us or was preparing to threaten us. But this is a fact of life. We were in a country where these kinds of things happen and the decision was to leave."

When confronted by the Swedish journalists and told that everything he had said was caught on tape, Jan Kavan had the following to say:

Mr Kavan: "When, in fact, I acquired the suspicion, not that they were journalists but that this is about corruption that they are involved in something that I consider illegal, I went to the Czech police and informed them about this and gave the names and the name of this organisation and described in detail my suspicion that they actually want us to circumvent or slow down the police investigation over corruption."

Reporter: "Well, Mr Kavan, the camera does not lie and you were heard on tape saying that money changed hands, that this would send chills down the spines of many important people, that a number of people were bribed, and that the BEA's manager in Prague was handling the kickbacks. Now you are saying something else. Are you taking a responsible position here? Are you upright about this?"

Mr Kavan: "I am absolutely honest and forward. I am saying that I was sharing with them what I described as rumours and speculation about certain kickbacks that might have taken place. I am not denying that those speculations were heard and that I passed them on to these two gentlemen. But I'm saying that I personally cannot prove it, I have no evidence that any such corruption has taken place."