Councillors and call girls

Unassuming Uddevalla on Sweden's west coast was thrust into the national spotlight last week - but for all the wrong reasons.

The town was first rocked by accusations of deception and forgery by a leading local politician, Helen Hagström Nordendorph. It was then left reeling by sensational revelations about a housing official, who spent 29 million crowns of public funds on luxury prostitutes.

Friday’s GP reported that Hagström Nordendorph, a prominent local Social Democrat, had been charged on four counts of deception and forgery of official documents. Intriguingly, when assistant chief prosecutor Sune Johansson announced the charges at a press conference, he also complained that he’d been put under political pressure during the investigation and that some politicians had been reluctant to co-operate.

“It’s odd that politicians can have opinions on an investigation that has nothing to do with them,” he commented. “We’ve had problems getting hold of information.”

Among the charges are that she received 59,000 crowns as compensation for lost earnings whilst carry out political work, which she wasn’t entitled to; and that she claimed 115,583 crowns in parental allowances and sick pay, even though she was working.

Other charges include forging signatures on pay documents at the Swedish Social Democrats’ Youth Federation (SSU). The original allegations were made by three fellow Social Democrats.

Hagström Nordendorph herself is keeping a low profile and denies the charges, all of which carry a potential jail sentence. Leader of the opposition in Uddevalla, Staffan Cronholm of the Moderates, scents blood, and wants the entire Social Democratic leadership to go if there’s a conviction.

“Not least, Lennart Björk,” he said, referring to the council leader, who was the accountant at the SSU at the time in question.

Meanwhile, a 44 year old “family man” has admitted to embezzling 29.7 million crowns from the local housing trust, Uddevallahem, and blowing the lot on exclusive call-girls.

Saturday’s Aftonbladet described how the man, a “multiple Swedish champion” in an unspecified sport, stole the money over a period between 1995 and 2003. He contacted escort agencies in several European countries via the internet and had the women flown to Sweden. He stayed at hotels for between 100 and 150 nights a year, whilst his family remained ignorant of his double life.

How did he do it? Well, the man, a financial officer at the housing trust, appears simply to have transferred money from the trust’s account and put it into his own credit card account. His lawyer, Lennart Borglund observed: “It’s very odd that nobody spotted the embezzlement earlier.”

Sture Engqvist, chairman of Uddevallahem, begged to differ: “This is a man we had great confidence in. He’s used very sophistocated methods to conceal his withdrawals in the accounting system.”

More details emerged on Tuesday, when Aftonbladet published excerpts from the 44 year old’s police interviews.

He had told his family that he was working on a project with a computer company in Gothenburg. Bills for hundreds of thousands of crowns appeared on his credit card account week after week for eight years. He even paid for a flat in New York used by one of his prostitutes and her acting course in London.

The first time he plundered the housing trust’s account was to pay off debts incurred building his house. At around the same time, he happened to read about escort agencies.

“I simply picked up the phone,” the man apparently told police. “It was around the time I’d found out how I could take money out. Why hire a local girl, who could turn up at your front door? Of course, they were in a completely different price league, but it wasn’t my money.”

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