Herman de Wulf/BRUSSELS

A FORMER CHIEF of the Belgian air force has apparently committed suicide as a result of Belgian police investigations into the widening corruption scandal surrounding the Ministry of Defence's purchase of Agusta A.109 helicopters.

Gen. Jacques Lefebvre, chief of staff of the Belgian air force for just over three years until 31 December, 1988,died in a Brussels hotel room on 7 March. The death followed a search by police of the Brussels office of Dassault Aviation and local aerospace company SABCA.

The search followed the discovery of BFr60 million in a Swiss bank account, owned by the former secretary of Belgium's Flemish Socialist party, Luc Wallyn, who was arrested on 17 February, in connection with the Agusta deal, together with several other people, including, Belgium's postmaster general and Socialist party treasurer Etienne Mang.

Since retiring in 1989, Lefebvre had been head of Europavia, the company, which represents French aviation interests in Belgium.

His death is the second related to the corruption scandal. An investigation into the murder of former Belgian socialist minister Andr, Cools in 1991 led to the discovery of an alleged BFr51 million ($1.6 million) bribe to the Socialist party connected with the purchase of 46 A.109s for the Belgian army in December 1988 (Flight International, 1-7 March).

Guy Coeme, defence minister of the day, has already resigned from the Belgian Government and faces trial, for his part in the alleged Agusta corruption.

Mang, informed interrogators that Luc Wallyn had also received BFr60 million "from Aerospatiale" - although this appears to have been a case of mistaken identity. The French company, which lost the helicopter contest to Agusta, denies any involvement. The money Mang, mentioned was found in a second Swiss bank account held by Wallyn.

Mang,'s lawyers say that the money may be linked to the 1988 BFr7.5 billion contract with Dassault Electronique to supply Carapace electronic countermeasures systems for Belgian Lockheed F-16 fighter aircraft.

A link has also been suggested with the update of 20 Dassault Mirage 5Bas by Sabca for the air force. Both programmes had been the responsibility of Lefebvre.

Meanwhile, speculation continues over the future of NATO secretary general Willy Claes because of his possible involvement in the Agusta affair. As economy minister in 1988, his signature was crucial. He has denied having heard anything about Agusta offering money to his party.

When Mang, said that Claes was present at a meeting where he revealed to party leaders that Agusta was offering money, Claes backtracked, saying only that he vaguely remembered "...Mang, had mentioned something" but that he had not paid attention.

Source: Flight International