All’s fair in love and Swedish politics

What does it take to keep a politician out of public office? Not financial irregularities, an affair with a colleague or commercial failure, it seems. Two of the country's movers and shakers can testify to that after revelations this week about their questionable business practices.

No less a figure than Sweden’s Finance Minister Bosse Ringholm has admitted that the football club of which he is chairman neglected to pay its advertising taxes for several years.

And the Prime Minister has welcomed back into the inner circle a minister who left government in 1998 once her extramarital affair with a colleague became known. Ylva Johansson, former Minister of Schools, will take up a post within the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs, focusing on issues of the elderly.

It’s an area in which she has experience, if not commercial success. The business she started in late 1998, Att Veta AB, designed educational software for health care personnel working with the elderly. The company has yet to see profit and in fact has reported losses of SEK 79 million, according to Expressen. Her personal economics never suffered, however. Tuesday’s Svenska Dagbladet reported that she raked in a monthly salary of SEK 110,000 and now the appointment is dogged by criticism both internally and externally.

“That doesn’t jibe with workers’ values,” says Ninel Jansson, a high-ranking Social Democrat and chair of the commerce committee within the Swedish Trade Union confederation. “We shouldn’t have ranking politicians who have such different basic lifestyles.”

Prime Minister Göran Persson stands behind his choice, however, saying to SvD, “I can’t imagine anyone better to deal with these issues than Ylva Johansson.”

Persson, it seems, is a forgiving boss. Recall Mona Sahlin, currently Minister of Democracy and Integration, who quit politics and her post as Deputy Prime Minister in 1995 following a scandal involving spending on her government credit card. She returned to public office in 1998. And Laila Freivalds was forced to quit as Minister for Justice amid controversy over plans to convert her apartment into a condominium, contrary to the official party line against such business. Freivalds was recently appointed Foreign Minister, replacing Anna Lindh.

But it’s not just the Social Democrats whose black sheep return to the fold. Gudrun Schyman was forgiven many misdeeds, including public drunkenness, but the last straw was her tax declaration last year (2003) in which she reported expenses that were in fact already paid for by taxpayers. Blaming sloppiness, she was forced to step down as head of the Left Party but remains active as a parliamentary representative.

As for Ringholm, it’s not the first time his judgement has been clouded by his love of football. In June he used the parliamentary plane to fly to Portugal to see Sweden play in the European Championships. Last week, Swedish radio revealed that Enskede IK had been cheating on its taxes for “at least a few years”.

Sports clubs are required to pay tax on any advertising income above 20,000 crowns. Enskede IK’s own office admitted to earning between 120,000 and 140,000 crowns a year but Tuesday’s DN said the club is not even registered with tax authorities.

Speaking through his press spokesman, Ringholm said it was a mistake.

“Our club will of course pay taxes like everyone else.”

Otherwise Ringholm referred press to the club’s cashier who was unavailable to answer questions. A club representative has contacted tax authorities to rectify the situation.

Dodi Axelson