Nuder denies meddling as bank chief quits

Lars Heikensten has abruptly resigned as Governor of the Riksbank, Sweden's national bank, accepting the nomination by the Swedish government to serve on the European Court of Auditors. But amid allegations of political meddling, Finance Minister Pär Nuder was forced to emphasise the Riksbank's independence.

“To believe that the government would have evil intentions with this is a conspiracy theory which says more about those who express it than about the government,” said Nuder at a press conference on Friday.

The official reasons given by Heikensten for his decision include an interest in working abroad and good family timing.

“I have long wished to work abroad during some part of my working life. It is also very convenient for my family that I take this step now,” he said.

The reasons why the Swedish government nominated the Riksbank Governor, who has served only half of his six-year term, for the EU job are, however, less clear.

Moderate Party leader Fredrik Reinfeldt called the timing “very unfortunate”.

“It is very unexpected, and raises many questions,” he added.

Like other opposition leaders, Reinfeldt is concerned that politics has played a part in the nomination, and will play a part in the appointment of a new Riksbank governor. To combat this, he said, “We want very much to be a part of the process.”

Finance Minister Pär Nuder dismissed criticism that the government nomination of Lars Heikensten to an EU position, creating the ability to appoint a new governor, was politically motivated.

“The government is committed to the Riksbank’s independence, and I am convinced that the Riksbank will remain as independent under a new Riksbank governor,” stated Nuder.

Nevertheless, questions remain as to why Lars Heikensten was called by Pär Nuder on Thursday morning and asked to work abroad.

“There is suspicion that it was because Lars Heikensten practiced an independent monetary policy, which sparked strong criticism from prominent members of Göran Persson’s government,” commented Mats Odell, a Riksbank delegate and economic and political spokesman for the Christian Democratic Party.

The process of appointing a new Riksbank Governor is expected to begin immediately. Deputy governors Irma Rosenberg and Eva Srejber are tipped as frontrunners for the position.

Jody Sherwood

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Sources: Dagens Nyheter, Svenska Dagbladet, Riksbanken, TT