Prosecutors probing would-be chopper deal with France: report

France’s Airbus company

Polish prosecutors have launched a probe into a scrapped multi-billion deal for the purchase of military helicopters by Poland from a French firm, according to a report.

They are probing claims that the tender may have been designed by officials in Poland’s former government, including ex-Defence Minister Tomasz Siemoniak, to favour France’s Airbus company, Poland’s public broadcaster TVP Info reported on its website.

It cited a spokesman for the Warsaw Prosecutor’s Office, Michał Dziekański, as saying that prosecutors were investigating whether the officials neglected their duties or overstepped their authority.

Such offences carry a penalty of up to three years in prison, the broadcaster said.

The District Prosecutor’s Office in Warsaw recently overturned a decision by prosecutors last year to refuse to open an inquiry in response to a notification filed by deputies from Poland’s ruling conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party, TVP Info reported, citing a number of sources.

The probe is now being conducted by prosecutors in the northwestern city of Szczecin.

PiS deputies notified prosecutors in May last year, alleging that the tender could have been designed to be won by one bidder: France’s Airbus.

According to PiS, former Defence Minister Tomasz Siemoniak, his deputy Czesław Mroczek and other officials the two supervised may have committed a crime, TVP Info said.

In October last year, the Polish PiS-led government, which swept into power after parliamentary elections in October 2015, announced it was not going ahead with the purchase of 50 H225M Caracal helicopters from France’s Airbus for PLN 13.5 billion (EUR 3.2 billion), citing unsuccessful negotiations over an offset deal.

Poland’s former Civic Platform-led government in April 2015 chose to purchase helicopters from Airbus, rejecting rival offers from the Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation’s PZL Mielec and AgustaWestland PZL Świdnik.

The decision to purchase from a French firm rather than a Polish one was met with domestic criticism at the time. The Law and Justice government indicated that it might cancel the deal after winning parliamentary elections. The negotiations were called off a year later.

According to government officials, negotiations failed as an agreement could not be reached on offset requirements.

A few days ago, National Public Prosecutor Bogdan Święczkowski said that prosecutors would investigate “the whole process of buying the Caracal helicopters, which means the entire process of negotiating the purchase of the helicopters, including the signing of the contract, and how the French party subsequently withdrew from the offset obligations.”

Meanwhile, Deputy Defence Minister Michał Dworczyk, a PiS MP, recently notified Poland’s Central Anti-Corruption Bureau (CBA) about possible irregularities related to the tender, TVP Info reported.

In a separate motion, deputies from the opposition Civic Platform party have notified prosecutors that current government officials may have neglected their responsibilities and “acted to the detriment of the State Treasury” by halting the Caracal order, according to TVP Info.

Caracals grounded in France due to costly repairs: report

Polish private radio broadcaster RMF FM on Wednesday cited the French Ministry of Defence as saying that more than half the military aircraft and helicopters in France have been grounded due to exorbitant costs of repairs.

France’s Defence Minister Florence Parly has said that over three-quarters of the country’s Caracal helicopters are grounded, according to the Polish broadcaster’s rmf24.pl website.

‘Old, expensive, wholly imported, breakdown-prone helicopters’

Referring to the report, an MP for Poland’s ruling conservatives, Artur Soboń, said in parliament on Thursday: “Our predecessors were planning to buy old, expensive, wholly imported and, as it turns out, breakdown-prone helicopters.”

Another conservative MP, Wojciech Skurkiewicz, said that in hindsight the decision to halt the Caracal order “has proved to be the right decision for the Polish armed forces.”

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