Saddam’s cousin seeks Swedish asylum

Saddam Hussein has so many cousins that sooner or later one was bound to turn up in Sweden. But when a relative of the former Iraqi dictator arrived on Sweden's doorstep last week, all talk was of security implications and secret service interrogations.

The Swedish front of the Iraq war may have been quiet recently, but appearances may have been deceptive. Tuesday’s Expressen claimed that Sweden was home to two of Saddam’s relatives who, it was said, “could have important information about the resistance groups targeting American soldiers”.

The paper reported that the Swedish Security Police (Säpo) would only admit to the presence of one member of Saddam’s clan, but Expressen was sticking to its story, claiming that the pair was being interrogated “on behalf of the Americans.”

Svenska Dagbladet sought to play down the significance of the interrogation.

“This is not unusual,” said Margareta Linderoth from Säpo. “Lots of people who come here from Iraq are investigated in this way.”

And changes at the top mean that any members of the al-Tikriti clan will be meeting a thoroughly modern breed of spook. Säpo’s new boss, Klas Bergenstrand, has laid out his plans for modernizing Sweden’s security police, and says he wants to adapt it for the modern threat of terrorism.

“The threats we face today are completely different from those we faced at the end of the eighties,” said Bergenstrand. “The military threat has disappeared, and has been replaced by the threat of terrorism.”

But even if immigrants from Iraq are impressed by the slickness of Sweden’s interrogation techniques, they will be less impressed by the efficiency of the Migration Board. The board, which is responsible for dealing with all asylum and residency applications in Sweden, has received strong criticism from an enquiry by the Swedish Agency for Public Management (Statskontoret).

DN on Saturday reported that the immigration service “lacks routines for deciding how decisions should be made and by whom”. The role of the head office was judged to be unclear, the paper went on, and decision-making was inconsistent across the different Swedish regions.

Lena Häll Eriksson, director-general of the Migration Board until last year, was unavailable for comment. However, at a parliamentary enquiry into the recent prison escapes, the general-director of the prison service, that other bastion of public sector efficiency, was more forthcoming. Step forward… Lena Häll Eriksson.

Yet even in front of that august body, Häll Eriksson was getting cheesed off at the presence of a certain Peter Althin, Christian Democrat MP and lawyer to the celebrity criminal class.

Häll Eriksson told DN that Althin’s presence on the committee – at the same time as he was representing escaped prisoner Tony Olsson – meant that she was not able to speak as freely as she would have liked. Social Democrat MPs on the committee agreed. Elisabeth Markström argued that “if a representative of the prison service is to feel able to speak freely, it is unsuitable to have the lawyer for one on the suspects to be sitting at the table.”

Yet Althin didn’t sound like he was about to hang up one of his many hats.

“What’s she afraid of?” he mused to DN. “What can I do that other people on the committee couldn’t also do?”