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"Thousands blacklisted" in Malmö property scandal

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03:16 CET+01:00
A newspaper has revealed that the largest residential property company in Malmö, MKB, has been systematically discriminating against thousands of would-be tenants on the basis of ethnicity, family ties, psychiatric health and previous relationships.

Individuals within the organisation stand accused of illegal discrimination and misuse of personal data and, if convicted, could face up to two years in prison.

For four days the Malmö-based Sydsvenskan has supported its allegations with increasingly damaging evidence gathered from a "secret register" in two "packed files", which was supplied to the newspaper by an unnamed source.

The list apparently contains several thousand names, sorted alphabetically, along with personal numbers, address and "a short commentary about why they have been blacklisted".

According to its web site, MKB has a policy of equality towards potential tenants.

"We want to emphasise that everyone has the same opportunity to get an apartment with MKB," says the company, which is 100% owned by the city of Malmö.

But Sydsvenskan detailed numerous factors which, they allege, were reasons why MKB did not give them apartments.

One man was on the list because he was "suspected of being Bosnian".

The paper said that there were many examples of people who were registered "simply because they happen to know someone who MKB classed as undesirable", such as one man who "has a brother who's a real troublemaker".

Others seem to have fallen foul of even more subjective evaluations, such as the man described as "untalented and rather alone" or the woman who was said to give out "slightly strange signals when you meet her".

Thousands were simply described as "someone to avoid".

Both the Data Inspection Board and Malmö's chief prosecutor will investigate the register, according to Aftonbladet.

"Personal details should always be treated in a correct and fair way," said Anders Wiklund, the Data Inspection Board's lawyer.

"They should be adequate and relevant and the main rule is that the registered person should have given his or her consent - something which doesn't exactly seem to have happened in this case," he told news agency TT.

Aftonbladet noted that the penalty for breaking personal data laws is fines or prison for up to two years.

Sven-Erik Alhem, the chief prosecutor, told Sydsvenskan that the information provided by the paper was enough for him to begin his own investigation.

"As a prosecutor you have to be careful with information in the mass media about suspected crimes, but these details are so concrete that we must act immediately," he said.

Predictably, the first reaction from MKB management was to deny knowledge of the blacklist. At a press conference after Sydsvenskan's initial revelations, MKB's head of sales, Eva Wiberg-Sunzel - who is also in charge of the company's information service - was asked if she had seen information about tenants' race or religion.

"That's not something I have noticed during the time I've worked here," she replied.

But the following day, the paper published an excerpt from an email apparently sent by Wiberg-Sunzel, in which she described a potential tenant as "black with a French accent".

"I misunderstood the question," she explained later.

"I thought the question was put to me as head of sales. As head of sales I haven't written this email and I sincerely apologise for the use of language. Black or white or green doesn't make any difference."

Another senior member of staff at MKB, head of property Michael Carlsson, allegedly told staff not to reveal why applicants for apartments were denied contracts.

Politicians have been quick to criticise the organisation for its policy.

Mona Sahlin, the minister for Sustainable Development, called for legislation to control property companies' selection procedures, while local councillors demanded a response from MKB's managing director, Lars Birve.

"We must be crystal clear about this," said the Social Democrats' Anders Rubin. "We absolutely cannot tolerate people being treated differently on the grounds of ethnic, cultural or religious persuasion or sexual orientation."

"This communal company ought to have set an example, but obviously all property owners must adhere to the demands of equality," added Rubin.

Birve responded defiantly on Sunday with a statement on the company's web site.

"MKB has no secret list/register of customers or apartment-seekers," he wrote.

"This "register" which the media is referring to is not an MKB register but a print-out of emails sent several years ago. These have been archived by a single employee."

He went on to explain that when people looking for apartments register with the company, certain information is required as part of the standard process.

However, on Monday Sydsvenskan hit back with the headline "Abused women blacklisted".

The paper said that a number of violent men "who risk damaging apartment interiors and disturbing neighbours" were on the blacklist.

But it also said that "women who had been systematically terrorised by husbands, fathers, brothers, partners and boyfriends" were registered. The reason was that MKB considered that there was a risk that they could be attacked by the men - and that could disturb the neighbours.

Sources: Sydsvenskan, SVT, Aftonbladet, www.malmo.se

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