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Patria CEO steps down during bribery probe

By LEANDER SCHAERLAECKENS, UPI Correspondent

BRUSSELS, Aug. 21 (UPI) -- Patria CEO resigns during Slovenia bribery probe

Jorma Wiitakorpi resigned this week as chief executive officer of Finland's state-controlled giant arms corporation Patria.

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The Helsingen Sanomat newspaper reported Thursday that Finland's National Bureau of Investigation had already quizzed Wiitakorpi as a suspect and material witness over the terms of two lucrative contracts Patria Vammas Oy and Patria Vehicles Oy, two former subsidiaries of the Patria Corp., had made with the governments of Egypt and Slovenia.

However, the report said Wiitakorpi was not personally being investigated or accused of any illegal activities.

Wiitakorpi will be replaced as CEO of Patria by Heikki Allonen, the former CEO of the Finnish consumer goods group Fiskas, and Wiitakorpi will stay at his side as a senior adviser until spring next year, Helsingen Sanomat said.

Slovenian authorities are continuing their probe to discover whether government officials were offered bribes during the negotiations. The report said 15 Patria employees have been questioned so far in the probe, but none of them belonged to the Patria Group's top management.

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In 2006 the Slovenian government awarded Patria a $385 million contract to build 135 armored vehicles. However, if the investigation confirms that bribery occurred, the deal will be canceled, as per an out clause in the contract.

The contract came under suspicion last year after the Finnish media questioned whether some of Patria's contracts in Egypt had been acquired within established ethical rules of conduct.

Patria is 73 percent owned by the Finnish government. The remaining stock is held by the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Co.


Pentagon opens defense cooperation office in Finland

The headquarters of the Finnish Ministry of Defense now plays host to the U.S. Department of Defense's Office for Defense Cooperation, Defense News reports.

Following deals with 34 other European countries -- including Denmark, France, Germany, Norway, Sweden and Britain -- the Pentagon also has opened an office in the Finnish military headquarters in order to promote and stimulate reciprocal defense deals. The office is a natural progression of the defense procurement reciprocity agreement signed between the United States and Finland in 1991.

The office is also intended to facilitate defense exports to the United States from Finland and will fall under the direct authority of the U.S. ambassador to Finland, Barbara Barrett.

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The new office's first priority will be to help an American bidder win the Finnish Air Force's Boeing-McDonnell-Douglas F/A-18 Super Hornet upgrade contract.


BAE wins Royal Navy firepower contract

BAE Systems won the task of building a prototype 155mm naval gun for Britain's surface warships. The weapon could be ready for on-land testing by the second half of next year, BAE said in a statement.

The prototype gun would be built and operated by BAE divisions CORDA, Land Systems and QinetiQ.

The proposed gun will be similar to the British army's AS90 self-propelled Howitzer. It probably also will be similar to the 155mm Advanced Gun System the Armaments Systems division is currently producing for the U.S. Navy and its DDG 1000 destroyers, of which two will be built -- five less than originally planned.

Although the Royal Navy prototype contract is for only about $7.5 million, it could lead to prospects of fitting the new gun onto the fleet's Type 23 frigates and Type 45 destroyers that are already in service. The new gun could also be in contention for the Future Surface Combatant.


Norway to curb cuts and expand military

The Norwegian government has reversed course and is planning to expand its armed forces rather than shrink them.

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A new development plan means Norway's armed forces, border patrol and coast guard could end up with more money, not less, according to Defense News.

The new plan is in striking contrast to a long pattern of defense budget cuts, troop reductions and endless friction between the Norwegian armed forces' senior commanders and the nation's political leaders. Yet -- in an outcome unusual in European countries in recent decades -- Norway's armed forces might just come out on top in the fight for government funds.

The Norwegian government's new plan envisions an annual budget hike of about $147.4 million for each of the next four years. The money would go primarily toward securing Norway's High North border with Russia, and it also would fund additional support for U.N. and NATO missions. Norway is a longtime member of the U.S.-led NATO alliance.

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