Lockheed Martin is trying to distance itself from an unfolding political scandal in Hungary involving the activities of one of its mid-level executives, who has been forced to resign, along with two senior Hungarian government officials.

The scandal centres on Hungarian political lobbying to appoint Steven Jones, Lockheed Martin representative in Hungary, as the next US ambassador in Budapest. A letter addressed to two US congressmen, including Jesse Helms, chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, was leaked to the Hungarian newspaper Nepszava. Lockheed Martin denies having any involvement in the letter but suggests that "a version of the letter was modified by our employee in Fort Worth and transmitted to his contacts in Hungary".

The company says it does not believe this letter or an earlier version, which was addressed to Texas' two Republican senators, had been sent.

Jones was originally sent to Hungary to identify potential industrial co-operation partners as an offset against the proposed sale of F-16s to Hungary.

Among his contacts were three Hungarian undersecretaries of state in the prime minister's office, who, along with 31 members of parliament, were co-signatures of the officially headed letter proposing Jones as ambassador.

Two of the undersecretaries, Istvan Balsay and Gabriella Selmeczi, have resigned and are now the subject of a corruption investigation.

The Fort Worth company has conducted its own internal investigation and claims to have "found no evidence of any improper influence relating to the potential sale of Lockheed Martin products or services to Hungary".

Source: Flight International