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Swedish defence minister Tolgfors resigns

Published: 29 Mar 2012 10:12 GMT+02:00
Updated: 29 Mar 2012 11:27 GMT+02:00

"I have today, upon request from Sten Tolgfors, decided to relieve Sten Tolgfors (of his duties)," prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt told a news conference on Thursday.

Tolgfors explained that he's been considering stepping down since last autumn, but cited the ongoing Saudi arms deal scandal as a contributing factor to his decision to resign at this time.

"There was no intrigue behind the resignation," Tolgfors said.

"I'm happy to have been a part of an armed forces for which I have the utmost esteem. But my energy has begun to wane. And the media attention of the last few weeks was the last straw."

Reinfeldt announced that current infrastructure minister Catharina Elmsäter-Svärd would temporarily step in as defence minister in the wake of Tolgfors's departure.

The prime minister also praised Tolgfors for his efforts in helping the Swedish military through a difficult time of transition which included the abandoning of conscription and a move to a more mission-based military amid difficult budget cuts.

"Sten has worked hard and in a goal oriented way and the military's budget is balanced. Sten Tolgfors deserves recognition for that," said Reinfeldt.

Reinfeldt admitted that many will assume that the decision was taken "solely because of discussions surrounding Saudi Arabia" but emphasized that discussions of Tolgfors departure had been going on for months.

Tolgfors's resignation comes amid continuing revelations about secret plans by a branch of the Swedish military to help build an arms plant in Saudi Arabia.

On Wednesday, it emerged that an official from Sweden's Defence Research Agency (Totalförsvarets forskningsinstitut, FOI) requested that documents related the secret Swedish-Saudi weapons deal not be recorded in order to “protect” Tolgfors.

The documents included a signed agreement detailing plans to build an advanced arms factory for anti-tank missiles in Saudi Arabia, according to the report in the Aftonbladet newspaper.

The revelations were the latest development in an ongoing story, first reported in early March by Sveriges Radio (SR), detailing secret plans by FOI to help the Saudis build a weapons plant.

As FOI's plans to provide assistance with the construction of the factory were considered to be on the border of what the agency had the right to do, a shell company, SSTI, was set up by an FOI official with cash borrowed from Sweden's military intelligence agency, MUST, in order hide Swedish involvement in project, dubbed Project Simoom.

It's been shown that people under Tolgfors at the defence ministry were aware of the project, but the defence minister has previously denied having any knowledge of SSTI, which was set up in prior to March 2010 when it was abandoned.

FOI’s own investigation into the matter revealed information leading the agency to believe “a crime may have been committed”, prompting FOI head Jan-Olof Lind to report the incident to prosecutors, who last week launched a preliminary criminal investigation into the matter.

During Thursday's press conference, Tolgfors had little to say about the Saudi arms plant project.

"When it comes to the Saudi debate of recent weeks, I have nothing more to add. The viewpoint I had on March 9th is the viewpoint I still have," he said, explaining that several investigations into FOI's involvement with the Saudis are underway.

"I don't plan to comment more on this matter, but the issue will continue via these processes.

"I can say however that the media attention in recent weeks has hastened and facilitated my decision."

Social Democratic-leaning political scientist Ulf Bjereld said he's not very surprised over Tolgfors's resignation in light of the Saudi arms deal scandal.

"You could say that Tolgfors became too heavy a burden for the Alliance government as this business continued to develop. I think it will be something of a relief, not only for Tolgfors personally, but also for the prime minister," Bjereld told the TT news agency.

He added that it's too early to say whether or not Tolgfors will ultimately be held responsible for any wrongdoing related to the Saudi weapons plant project.

"That's something an investigation can show after the fact. There have been several questions that Tolgfors hasn't been able to answer. But it's too early to say exactly what responsibility he had," he said.

Tolgfors, of the Moderate Party, has been defence minister since 2007 after serving as Sweden's trade minister from the time the current Alliance government took office in 2006.

Tolgfors succeeded Mikael Odenberg, who resigned in September 2007 to protest against planned cuts to Sweden's defence budget.

TT/The Local (news@thelocal.se)

Your comments about this article

11:04 March 29, 2012 by gpafledthis
Grandpa told us he left the "mama's boys" behind when he left Uppsala !!
11:33 March 29, 2012 by Abe L
There is no arms deal scandal, that business transaction is a much needed asset to the Swedish economy. We should encourage more of such deals instead of having the people involved with them leave their positions.
11:44 March 29, 2012 by skogsbo
who cares if he instigated the deal, or kept it out of the public domain. Not everything government and especially military deal needs to be made public. There will be 100s of business deals done today in Sweden, all will be kept confidential by the companies, sometimes it pays not to let other competing companies know too much.

The guy has probably had his personal and family life made a complete misery over this. He was only doing his job at the end of the day.

One article slams the Swedish military for allowing access to a supposedly secret bunker, now they get slammed for keeping something secret, they can't win.
12:34 March 29, 2012 by muscle
@Abe L:

Pakistan would love to sell nukes to different countries as well. After all it can help it earn a huge revenue. You suppose that is OK?
13:44 March 29, 2012 by notaswed
@Skogsbo,

who cares? somebody cares about life, is its all about business and money and whats good for the economy but damaging to other citizens. if the military is involved in deals that can result in lost of other lives instead of "protecting" life in general is that safe and ethical?

I am tempted to believe that Tolgfors has been faced with a conflict of interest situation where his personal ethical values do not agree with some decisions made in the entire political arena, of which he had a choice to make, and he did make the right choice.

Imagine a world without weapons and ammunition, how many innocent lives can be protected?? You do not only think about yourself and your welfare while jeopardizing others!!!
17:50 March 29, 2012 by cabralb
Come on Sweden, be a model a usual!! You have not been into war and killing but doing it indirectly? it is all a matter of money, but it is also something to do with the death of many others...... the saying goes as usual, a 50,000 bomb is carried by a millions worth plane to destroy people whose daily earning is just some Kronors, not even a 50 Kronor a day!!! What a world, stop arms and we have peace.
20:50 March 29, 2012 by johan rebel
Weeks too late.

Swedish foreign and defense policy still rests firmly on the same two social democratic principles: hypocrisy and cowardice.
22:04 March 29, 2012 by ibnado
Sweden ought to practice what it breaches in democracy

"Peace activists who oppose Sweden's military exports said it was particularly improper for the country to strike military agreements with non-democratic regimes."

Yet those so proclaimed peace activists by their statement alleging Sweden is a democratic regime. However cursor review of application of Swedish laws at the several Sweden courts will demonstrate that Sweden is the most un-democratic country in the civilized world as can be found in case # O-8366-07 at the Stockholm appellate court & case # O—1016-11 at the Sweden Supreme court.

Records will show that Sweden judicial system does not even meet the minimum standard in human right for all people regardless of race of origin. Case 4 years records will show 17 judges of the Stockholm appellate court were legislating new laws & new court procedures with no respect to their own laws. Judges acted as they were adjudicating in Kangaroo courts & not at the Noble price award country (Sweden).Mrs. Beatrice Ask Sweden Justice Minister & the Prime minister were kept informed of the un-democratic human rights abuses at their courts, yet not a single response ever received or any corrective measure were taken.

So, Sweden has to lead by example in democracy at their courts before judging other regime and scaling their democracy.

A pending lawsuit against Sweden has been filed at the European Court of Human Rights case # 77115/11
09:26 March 30, 2012 by rise
I won't miss him cause back in the time when he was supposed to do his military service, just like every other Swedish man had to, he had a "conscientious objection". And they put him as a defense minister! Talk about illogical. But then, what IS logically in the world of politicians? :P
11:38 March 30, 2012 by philster61
Abe L.

So you think Sweden should profit from providing the weapons used to kill others do you? Just remember what happened to Olaf Palme?
15:40 March 30, 2012 by muhtia
I am surprised by the attitude of some guys here, those who says that the Swedish economy is above deaths of innocents. Or is it because Saudi Arabia is

an American ally? The kings there are sitting on the wealth of the citizens and they do not have basic rights there and shoot at any demonstrations. If that is OK for a guys like Abe L and Skogsbo, then I understand why they live in the woods.

This is a big scandal which can involve Reinfeldt ( I am sure he was aware of all this). When it comes to Iran, people call it all kind of things and Sweden even did not approve of Iran-Pakistani gas pipeline in accordance with Washington-s wishes. We are no longer neutral and we have to live in fear that we are in the terrorists' sights unnecessarily.
15:47 March 30, 2012 by Cephalectomy
i wonder what Mr nobel would have thought here
09:15 March 31, 2012 by rise
#12

Maybe he'd throw some dynamites to silence the fuss? :) After all he was the one who invented the dynamite...
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