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The Mysterious MiG Mess
by James Dunnigan
October 4, 2009

Russian prosecutors have tried and convicted several aviation company executives for passing off defective, or used, aircraft parts as new. Many of these parts made their way into MiG-29 jet fighters that were sold to Algeria. Two years ago, Algeria told Russia that it was cancelling the 2007 purchase of 28 MiG-29 fighters (for $1.3 billion), and returning the ones already delivered. Algeria insisted that there were quality issues, and that some of the aircraft were assembled from old parts. Last year, Russia agreed to buy 28 MiG-29 fighters, from the manufacturer to prevent the MiG Aircraft Corporation from going bankrupt.

The MiG-29 has been in service for 25 years, but stocks of Cold War era spare parts are still around, and it was first thought that some were put to use to build the Algerian aircraft. These are supposed to be "new," but some of their components were definitely not. Some MiG employees were very unhappy with the corrupt practices involving aircraft parts. This sort of crime often extends to parts for airliners. The MiG employees felt personally responsible for any defective aircraft leaving their plant, and didn't want to be flying in an airliner containing fraudulent parts either. Russian prosecutors, already involved in an anti-corruption program underway for several years, jumped on the allegations, and quickly found senior executives presiding over widespread fraud in the aircraft components industry.

Meanwhile, Algeria found itself still needing some modern jet fighters. They were soon receiving offers from France for more modern Rafael fighters. France presented itself as a more useful ally than Russia, and France wanted to sell some of those Rafaels real bad. Russia responded with an offer the Algerians could not refuse, if only because there were billions of dollars worth of other Russian weapons that the Algerians were still accepting. But the loss of that large a sale threatened to sink the manufacturer, which has been losing out to Sukhoi, which has been much more successful selling its Su-27 and Su-30 series aircraft. Meanwhile, Algeria was offered Su-30s, and the new (not yet in service) Su-35. This was seen, by all, as a suitable alternative to the MiG-29s.

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