Who took what for Gripen campaign?

Saab with aggressive fighter plane campaign in Bulgarian media; the latter will have to disclose money flows

The lobby of the Swedish company Saab switched to a higher gear in Bulgaria around Christmas. This came after the interdepartmental commission tasked with selecting the best bid for a fighter plane contract with the Bulgarian Air Force picked the US F-16 Block 70. Now the Council of Ministers is expected to advise the National Assembly that it purchase eight of these fighter aircraft.

The lobbyists’ attack was unleashed in full force after Saab first tried to influence the public directly with an aggressive media campaign. The virtues of the Swedish fighter plane were extolled in full-page articles in leading newspapers, even though the Gripen aircraft, in contrast to F-16, has never been used in actual military action. Telegraph Media’s members – the newspapers Telegraph, Monitor and Politika, were the only ones who refused to participate in this underhanded campaign and mislead the public with manipulations.

At the end of December, bTV’s programme 120 Minutes went to the absurd lengths of refuting the words of US Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan. A week earlier, appearing on the same show, he famously said, “We hope that the Bulgarian Air Force will fly the F-16 when protecting the Bulgarian people. F-16 offers the most advanced and sophisticated arms system.”

Under the innocuous pretext of observing the right of reply principle, the programme hosted Saab’s vice-president. Krasimira Stoyanova, who is a native Bulgarian, uttered a series of falsehoods like the assertion that these types of planes (editor’s note – F-16 Block 70) did not really exist, that there was no production facility for them and that the model is not being used by any army around the world. Meanwhile, pseudo-sociologist Andrey Raychev, who operates in tandem with his colleague Kancho Stoychev, used the bTV platform to say that if Bulgaria chooses F-16 it would be tantamount to a ritual suicide.

The coordinated attack against F-16 launched by Gripen’s lobby was immediately picked up by the website Dnevnik, part of the Fake News Factory controlled by the indicted oligarch Ivo Prokopiev, went through Mediapool, owned by Stoyana Georgieva, and finally popped up in Frognews of Ognyan Stefanov, aka Agent Academician of the former State Security. This chain reaction pulls back the curtain on the way these outlets have received money to prop up Gripen, which is obviously falling behind in the race. It is interesting to note that, for years, these lobbies had been generously sponsored by the America for Bulgaria Foundation, some of whose financial resources come from the US taxpayers.

The symbiosis between the lobbies of politicians, sociologists and experts is obvious even to the untrained eye – they are in favour of Gripen, TurkStream passing through Bulgaria, and building Belene NPP, despite the risk of that second nuclear power plant turning into another Chernobyl due to the seismic zone. The classic disinformation scheme was immediately replicated by the oligarchy’s websites, while the talking points were parroted by the lobbyists.

But here comes a small detail. Because of the new law designed to introduce transparency to media ownership and funding, a piece of legislation drafted by MRF lawmakers Delyan Peevski, Yordan Tsonev, Hamid Hamid and Velislava Krasteva, the media outlets engaged in Saab’s campaign will have to disclose how much they were paid for touting Gripen. This way, society will get an idea, albeit just an inkling, of the huge amounts of money invested in advertisement, promised and maybe even given under the table in exchange for this lobbying. But no one is saying a word about the financial resources involved in the campaign.

Saab was embroiled in a massive corruption scandal in the spring of 2018. In an original piece, the international organisation World Peace Foundation, which specialises in analysing arms trade and corruption linked to it, published an investigation into Gripen deals with the Czech Republic and Hungary. The probe describes the circumstances surrounding the deals, which led to the Czech Republic in 2004 signing a 10-year, $750m leasing contract for 14 Gripen aircrafts. The pattern was similar for the deal with Hungary, which inexplicably abandoned the F-16 at the last moment in favour of Gripen. According to the investigation, the two governments’ decisions to go with Gripen were swayed by commissions to the tune of €12.5m paid to Czech and Hungarian politicians.

The payments were made by Count Alfons Mensdorff-Pouilly, an Austrian businessman and Gripen sales agent for central Europe. Later, a probe conducted by the Swedish TV channel SVT revealed evidence, found in the police investigation’s documentation, which show that commissions were paid to members of the Hungarian and Czech political elites. Notes taken by Count Alfons Mensdorff-Pouilly contain lists of the recipients, including: “Hungary: five recipients, 126m Swedish kronas; Czech Republic: 20 recipients, 735m Swedish kronas”. According to the investigative team, accusations of corruption were made by the US authorities, with the companies Lockheed and Boing leaving the tender procedure citing as reason the fact that its conditions did not allow them to compete on a even playing field with the Europeans.

F-16 Block 70 is the most technologically advanced fourth-generation fighter plane in the world. It was developed by the US aerospace company Lockheed Martin based in Bethesda, Maryland. The most impressive feature of F-16 Block 70 is its super modern radar system based on technologies inspired by the fifth-generation fighter plane models F-22 and F-35. This includes the APG-83 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar developed by the Northrop Grumman Corporation. It can track over 20 targets at a time, enabling pilots to see further and more clearly, both in the air and on the ground, even in poor weather conditions. Its range for ground targets is over 160 nautical miles. Thanks to this radar, the plane has no trouble combating air and ground enemies at the same time.

Unlike its predecessors, the new F-16V Block 70 is equipped with a single-board computer with high productivity, which guarantees much better calculating capabilities of its aviation and arms systems, as well as a sniper’s accuracy of targeting. The fighter plane carries a wide range of weapons so it can be used in action against all types of enemies. F-16 Block 70 carries air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles, anti-ship and tactical missiles, laser-guided bombs, etc.

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