Defence commander in firing line

The nation's defence commander took a three-day hunting trip in Estonia paid for in part by funds from private weapons manufacturers

Members of parliament were calling for answers Monday from General Jesper Helsø, the military chief of staff, about his January 2006 all-expenses-paid hunting trip in Estonia.

Berlingske Tidende newspaper reported that the trip was paid for by the Royal Estonian Hunting Society, which had received funding from four large Swedish weapons manufacturers. In addition, several sales representatives from Swedish jet fighter producer Saab and from Hägglunds, a subsidiary of weapons designer British Aerospace Systems, also attended the hunt.

Swedish national television recently accused Saab of bribing government representatives in the sale of fighter jets to the Czech Republic and Saudi Arabia.

The Ministry of Defence has provided varying explanations about the nature of Helsø's trip and Berlingske Tidende newspaper reported that several documents in the case have either disappeared or been destroyed by the Defence Command.

Helsø's association with the sales representatives and his acceptance of free room and board were strongly criticised by parties across the board Monday. Helsø himself has refused to admit to any wrongdoing in the incident, saying that the trip's purpose was for 'informal discussions'.

'It's a huge misstep and clearly against the rules covering defence employees' association with vendors,' said Morten Bødskov, the Social Democratic political spokesperson.

'We plan to ask the minister of defence if there isn't a clear need for getting the rules specifically spelled out when the military's highest ranking officer apparently doesn't understand them and won't change his behaviour.'

The defence minister, Søren Gade, said that Helsø's request to attend the trip mentioned nothing of a hunting expedition. Gade has ordered Helsø to provide a written explanation to the ministry.

Political leaders from the opposition Social Democrats and Socialist People's Party, as well as the government's Conservatives and government friendly Danish People's Party have all requested a thorough investigation of the matter but have not yet called on the general to resign.

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