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Mixed reactions to Beltran verdict and interest rate rise

Mixed reactions to Beltran verdict and interest rate rise

Published: 15 Feb 2008 12:25 GMT+01:00
Updated: 15 Feb 2008 12:25 GMT+01:00

Sweden Says: David Landes scans press reactions to two decisions this week that took commentators by surprise: a guilty verdict in the Tito Beltran rape case and a Riksbank interest rate hike.

Swedes had their week interrupted by two decisions which set much of the country talking.

As reported by The Local on Tuesday, a court in Ystad delivered a guilty verdict in the much watched rape trial of a well-known opera star.

Tito Beltran was sentenced to two years in prison for a rape that occurred back in 1999, with testimony by two other Swedish celebrities playing a pivotal role in the case.

The verdict was controversial because Beltran was convicted without any physical evidence.

Legal expert Pelle Svensson used Expressen's ‘Page 4’ editorial to question the fairness of the verdict, calling the trial a "full blown witch hunt."

He pointed out that the multiple duties of the plaintiff's lawyer, Thomas Bodström, may have compromised his integrity in the case. Bodström, a former Minister of Justice, currently chairs the Riksdag's judiciary committee as well as the board of an organization working against sex crimes.

"Beltran has not received a fair trial because the power broker Bodström, chair of the judiciary committee, considered him a criminal, besides getting him convicted for an alleged crime," wrote Svensson.

According to Svensson, the court also failed in accepting a standard of evidence too low to ensure that "an innocent man isn't convicted."

Others hailed the verdict as a milestone in cases of violence against women, believing that Beltran's conviction would embolden other female victims to come forward.

On the eve of the verdict, Aftonbladet's Monica Gunne reminded readers that a previous case in which Beltran was freed on charges of molesting a 7-year-old had inspired the victim in the current case to come forward in the first place. She went on to explain that the trial's significance lay not in revealing the truth, but whether or not witness testimony would be sufficient for a conviction.

"The trial in Ystad isn't going to answer the question of what is true or not. The trial in Ystad will only tell us whether or not the evidence is enough," she wrote.

In reporting on the trial, Dagens Nyhter (DN) asked several legal experts their opinion on the case. Attorney Björn Hurtig saw the trial as a routine rape case that received an inordinate amount of media attention because it involved several celebrities.

"Otherwise evidence appears to have been evaluated much the same as it would in any other rape case. There are much more exceptional cases than this one," he said.

Criminal sentencing specialist Lena Holmqvist also clarified in DN that the criminal code doesn't place especially high demands for physical evidence in cases involving sexual intercourse.

Svenska Dagbladet (SvD) columnist Maria Abrahamsson, on the other hand, asked whether the court may have been affected by the intense media attention given to the celebrity trial. She pointed out that DNA-evidence led to a two year sentence for a man convicted in a more violent Stockholm rape case the same day as Beltran's conviction.

"The question must be asked if the Ystad district court has held itself coolly neutral to all the media attention when the court hands down a similarly harsh penalty in the Tito Beltran case. The judgment in clear and easy to read, yes. But it begs more questions than it answers," she wrote.

As Sweden came to grips with the significance of the Beltran case for the legal community, they were met with another surprising decision, this time from the financial community.

As The Local reported on Wednesday Sweden's central bank, the Riksbank, raised its benchmark interest rate 0.25 percent to 4.25 percent. The move took experts and financial markets by surprise, with most expecting that the bank would keep rates unchanged in light of growing economic uncertainly around the globe.

Aftonbladet criticized the decision on economic grounds, citing several reasons why the bank should not have raised rates. According to the tabloid, the bank seems more concerned about inflation in the future rather than today's stagnating wages.

"The rate hike creates concern in a time when uncertainty is already too great. Perhaps it's true that the Riksbank governor Stefan Ingves and the other representatives in the bank's leadership yesterday fulfilled their assignment. But in this case it's an assignment that is so one-dimensional as it has developed into an impediment for the Swedish economy," wrote Aftonbladet.

DN is less critical of the Riksbank's economic justifications for raising interest rates. The paper admits that inflation rose in Sweden in 2007 and could rise further in the coming years. However, the paper also cites several signs that the Swedish economy will not ultimately escape the global financial downtown.

What bothers DN more, however, is the way the Riksbank communicates externally. The paper questions the bank's ability to send appropriate signals, asserting that it ends up causing an undue amount of turmoil in the markets.

"When markets are expecting rates to go up, the Riksbank takes no action. Then long thereafter, the bank starts to react, but by that time there is no one left who expects the move," writes DN.

DN calls the bank "out of phase with the times" and points out the costs of a Riksbank that doesn't send out clear signals.

"Blurred decisions are hardly in anyone's interests. They work against the ambitions for an open monetary policy. They create unhealthy swings in markets. And they make it harder for the Riksbank to gain the approval of Swedish society," said the paper.

In the end, DN suggests that the the Riksbank governor would be well served by hiring a new communications advisor.

David Landes (david.landes@thelocal.se)

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