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Systembolaget bribery scandal: 92 accused

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18:00 CEST+02:00
At least 92 people are reportedly embroiled in a scandal of bribes and backhanders surrounding the Swedish state-run alcohol monopoly Systembolaget.

That number includes 77 store managers who are suspected of receiving money, holidays and gifts in return for illicitly helping suppliers to reach their sales targets. Fifteen people from at least three of Systembolaget's supply companies are also being investigated for bribery.

On Monday Stockholm police handed over a weighty 5,300-page report to the public prosecutor. Some employees are alleged to have made 100,000 crowns each and the total sum of money involved is said to be 1.2 million crowns.

While Dagens Nyheter called it "one of the biggest cases of bribery in the country's history", the finer details of the document are being kept under wraps until legal proceedings begin "before the end of the year".

Chief prosecutor Ewa Nyhult, who is leading the investigation, told Monday´s Svenska Dagbladet, "I do not wish to go in to what the suspects have done and what the charges are."

"During the next three weeks, the suspects have the chance to submit their own views on the investigation. We will continue to investigate other supply companies and suspicions of bribery."

So extensive is the report that police are using three fully loaded cars to transport it around the country. The cases are likely to be tried in a number of parallel hearings in district courts around Sweden.

According to Expressen, the investigation began in March 2003 and, for the last 11 months, seven full time investigators have been working on the case.

Suspicions were first aroused at the end of 2002 when a Systembolaget employee handed over three lists to company management. The lists revealed how much store managers could earn by helping suppliers to reach their sales targets.

After an internal investigation, it was established that some stores had unusually large amounts of certain brands from certain suppliers. In January 2003 ten store managers were dismissed.

They denied the allegations and said they were simply following the alcohol monopoly's standard practice. One was reinstated and two others accepted an out-of-court settlement. The web of allegations and denials became even more tangled when the remaining seven took their case to the Swedish Labour Tribunal (Arbetsdomstolen), alleging unfair dismissal.

At the same time Systembolaget also reported seven store managers and three supply companies to the public prosecutor.

But now the scandal has escalated to a far greater magnitude than Systembolaget boss - and wife of Prime Minister Göran Persson - Anitra Steen would have wished for, and she reportedly appeared nervous on Monday when commenting on the latest revelations.

"As soon as the proceedings begin, some time in November or December, we will carry out internal enquiries into every suspected employee," she said to Aftonbladet. "If the enquiry concludes they have taken money or goods from a company supplier, it will be difficult to keep them on."

With 77 of her 420 store managers with bribery charges pending, a recruitment drive for new store managers has already begun.

Sources: Dagens Nyheter, Svenska Dagbladet, Expressen, Aftonbladet

Christine Demsteader

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