Thursday, May 19, 2022

$8.7B Eurofighter Typhoon Deal ‘Under Scanner’ As Corruption Charges Levelled Against Top Officials By Kuwaiti Govt

The Kuwaiti government said it had recommended the names of two senior military officers for prosecution in a major corruption case pertaining to the acquisition of Eurofighter Typhoon jets. 

The country has earlier ordered an inquiry into what it called the unreasonably inflated price of the aircraft.

On January 24, Kuwait’s Anti-Corruption Authority said that a major general and a colonel in the army will face prosecution for allegedly misusing public funds. Kuwaiti officials are stepping up their efforts to increase accountability amid growing public outrage over corruption and financial anomalies in government departments.

Kuwaiti Ambassador to Italy Sheikh Azzam Al-Sabah (3rd L) and military officials receive two Eurofighter Typhoon jets from Italy on 7 December 2021 [KUNA]
Kuwaiti Ambassador to Italy Sheikh Azzam Al-Sabah (3rd L) and military officials receive two Eurofighter Typhoon jets from Italy on 7 December 2021 [KUNA]

In April 2016, Kuwait had approved an $8.7 billion order from a consortium of European companies for 28 Eurofighter Typhoons (Tranche 3A), which will be equipped with MBDA Storm Shadow, Brimstone, and other air-to-surface weaponry.  

The Kuwait Air Force received the first two aircraft last month. The induction ceremony took place at the Caselle airbase, near the city of Turin. The exorbitant price of the aircraft raised questions as similar purchases across the Middle East had cost a relatively lesser amount.

Qatar, for example, paid an estimated $6.9 billion for 24 planes, with deliveries set to begin next year. Saudi Arabia paid an estimated $6 billion for 72 Typhoons; the jets, however, were from a previous generation. A decade later, the kingdom struck again a deal worth $5 billion with the British government to buy another 48 planes. 

The Kuwaiti Anti-Corruption Authority investigated the agreement and found that army officers “caused grave damage to public money by issuing inflated bills to the manufacturer that exceeded the total value agreed upon in the main contract,” the country’s state-run KUNA news agency reported. 

The report went on to say that the exchange took place without authorization from the relevant authorities in the defense and finance ministries, and without a documentary credit for the exchange, affecting the contract’s payment schedule.

Authorities commended an anonymous whistleblower for assisting them to obtain information concerning the misappropriation of funds stating that attempts to collect and review evidence would continue.

Leonardo’s Response 

The Italian defense company, Leonardo, which is responsible for the manufacturing of aircraft for Kuwait, stated on January 25 that it is not the subject of a judicial investigation into the Kuwait Eurofighter program and that its deal to provide 28 fighters is going as planned.

Early on January 25, Leonardo shares plummeted as much as 8%, extending losses from the previous session, with traders blaming the drop on an investigation into the Kuwait deal. Leonardo stated that its relationship with Kuwait “has always been based on the principles of maximum transparency as well as full fairness,” and that each transaction is subject to rigorous examination.

Eurofighter-Typhoon
Eurofighter Typhoon armed with Paveway IV, Brimstone 2, Meteor and ASRAAM missiles. (Image: Eurofighter Typhoon)

Leonardo also said, “others will follow as per plan”. Kuwait and Leonardo’s contract comprises not just aircraft production in Italy, but also logistics, initial operational support services for three years (with an option for five more), and flight crew training. It also involves infrastructure development at the Ali Al Salem Air Base, which is home to the new Eurofighters. 

Ongoing Investigations

It is not the first time the Kuwaiti military has courted controversy. Two years ago, the-then Kuwaiti government was forced to resign owing to the alleged misappropriation of approximately $800 million from the country’s military aid fund. The episode is one of the various scandals that rocked the Middle-Eastern country in recent times.

On November 16, 2019, late Nasser Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah, Kuwait’s then defence minister and deputy prime minister, accused the prime minister, Jaber al-Mubarak, of failing to respond to repeated questions about financial irregularities in an army fund.

In early 2021, Sheikh Jaber al-Mubarak Al Sabah and his ally, former Defense and Interior Minister Sheikh Khalid al-Jarrah Al Sabah, were jailed in Kuwait’s Central Prison after the ministerial court ordered their detention for their suspected misuse of the military funds. The court also put lower-ranking officials in jail pending trial and barred Sheikh Jaber from traveling.

Another $1.2-billion contract for 30 Caracal military helicopters was probed by the country’s agencies. The deal was signed during then-French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian’s visit to Kuwait on August 9, 2016. Following that, allegations of bribery via a Lebanese broker surfaced.

Sheikh Jaber Al-Mubarak Al-Hamad Al-Sabah, Kuwait’s then Prime Minister, ordered a probe into the acquisition of 30 H225M Caracal multirole military utility helicopters — 24 for the Air Force and six for the Kuwait National Guard — in July 2018.

In 2018, then-Minister of Cabinet Affairs Anas al-Saleh said, “The case of the Caracal helicopter sale has been transferred to the National Anti-Corruption Commission.” The country currently is the in process of receiving these helicopters from Airbus.

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