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Industrial Spies Target French Fighter Jet Maker
Police are investigating suspected industrial espionage against the French competitor for a major fighter-jet contract in South Korea, officials said ahead of Monday's official opening of the Seoul Air Show.
A wiretap device found at the Seoul offices of Dassault Aviation has added industrial skullduggery to the intense rivalry between the four military jet makers fighting for the contract to supply 40 aircraft in a deal worth at least 3.2 billion dollars.
With the winner expected to be chosen in the next few weeks, stands promoting Dassault's Rafale jet, Boeing Co.'s F-15K, the Eurofighter consortium's Typhoon 2000 and the Russian Sukhoi Su-32 dominate this week's air show.
Yves Robins, a Dassault vice president for international relations, told of the telephone listening equipment found in the company's office building.
"I can confirm that a bugging device was found in the telephone exchange of our office building linked to our telephone lines," Robins said.
"I was there when it was found and the police are investigating," he added.
Seoul police said an inquiry was underway but would not give details. Dassault officials declined to comment further.
The deal for a jet with air-to-air combat and air-to-ground strike capability is one of the most eagerly awaited international defence contracts of the year because of South Korea's close defence ties to the United States. Virtually all of the country's foreign military equipment is US-made.
Even though the F-15K is the latest update of a fighter-bomber that is now more than 20 years old, defence experts and diplomats say Boeing is considered the frontrunner along with the ultra-modern Rafale.
The US aviation giant and Dassault have both invested heavily in promoting their planes. South Korea is a crucial market for Dassault which still only has orders for 300 jets from the French military.
While Eurofighter and particularly Sukhoi and have been more low key, as the decision day gets nearer, slowly the gloves have come off in the sales battle between the favourites.
"Rafale's history is well known... (for) being behind schedule and over budget," said Boeing vice president Doug Kennett in Seoul on Friday. "We have delivered on our promises."
The Boeing official said neither the Rafale nor the new Eurofighter had any ground combat capability, while the F-15 was battle tested in the Gulf War and over Kosovo.
"It is quite wrong to say that," answered Dassault's Robins as he showed off the Rafale at the Seoul military airport. "Quite ridiculous."
Eurofighter representatives also rejected the comments.
Robins said: "If the F-15 wins it would just mean that the American political pressure is heavier.
"But the big loser would not be Dassault. It would be the Koreans as they would lose the ability to have the latest technology to develop their own fighter."
All the main competitors have made tempting offers to offset the cost. South Korea, which hopes to develop its own fighter by 2015, has demanded at least 70 percent of the cost should go back to local industry.
The French government is backing Dassault by offering all the technology in the Rafale and other new missile weapons.
On Friday, Boeing said it had offered South Korea a 2.8 billion dollar technology transfer and component production package.
The Eurofighter consortium -- Britain, Germany, Italy and Spain -- reckons up to 100 percent of the contract price could go into local production and other contracts with consortium members.
The Typhoon is not on display in Seoul, which some analysts say is a sign that Eurofighter is not serious about competing. But consortium spokesman Colin Armstrong said "We have met all the requirements set by the Republic of Korea. We are much further down the line than out competitors might think."
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