Swedish prosecutor to investigate Iraq bribes

The Director of Public Prosecutions, Christer van der Kwast, is to investigate claims that Swedish companies paid bribes to former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's regime, in contravention of international sanctions against the country.

A number of companies have been accused of breaching the Oil for Food sanctions. Among them are the Swedish, or part-Swedish, firms Astra Zeneca, Volvo and Atlas Copco. Subsidiaries of Saab, Mölnlycke and Scania have also been named.

“We shall consider whether there are legal grounds for a criminal investigation in Sweden,” said Christer van der Kwast.

Van der Kwast emphasised that the matter is complicated, but said that he will be looking into whether the alleged bribery occurred within a timeframe which still allows for prosecutions to be brought, and whether there are Swedish or Sweden-based people involved.

“I can only take the statements at face value,” he said.

“But I assume they carry a certain weight because they come from a major UN investigation committee. They have requested that the countries involved take appropriate measures.”

The Swedish Anti-Corruption Institute said however that it may be difficult to press charges since many of the Swedish companies used local middlemen or agents.

“It seems to be the case that the Swedish companies used middlemen, free agents and retailers. One could argue that this is something that is not illegal for the Swedish companies or their subsidiaries,” the institute’s deputy chairman Jan Persson told TT.

The companies accused by the committee have begun responding to the allegations.

One of the companies is the British-Swedish pharmaceutical company, Astra Zeneca, which is accused of paying bribes to the Iraqi regime of over $162,000.

“We won’t understand in what respect we are supposed to be involved until we’ve had time to check all the details,” said head of information, Staffan Ternby to TT.

“The fact is, food and medicine were the products which were exempt from the sanction measures against Iraq and I know that the occasional contact which we had with Iraq in the middle of the 90s was mostly to do with trying to get payment for previous deliveries,” he said.

In a statement, industrial equipment comapny Atlas Copco said it “strongly objected to the assumption made by the Committee” and that internal investigations had shown that there were no payments made to the Iraqi government by the company.

“Atlas Copco Airpower in Belgium has been subject to an investigation by the Committee, ” wrote the company’s Legal Counsel, Hans Sandberg.

“The processes for the contract handling under the Program, all formally approved by the UN for payment by Letter of Credit, have been explained in detail.”

The company said it would continue its internal inquiry and stressed that “payments by Atlas Copco of the nature now in question are in direct conflict with the Atlas Copco Group’s written Business Code of Practice, and are never tolerated”.

Meanwhile, Volvo said that it was taking the accusations seriously.

“We are now investigating the matter more closely to determine what has happened,” says Volvo’s CEO Leif Johansson.

“If it is confirmed that the accusations are valid and improper actions have occurred, we will naturally take actions.”


Norway to send 200,000 AstraZeneca doses to Sweden and Iceland

Norway, which has suspended the use of AstraZeneca's Covid vaccine until further notice, will send 216,000 doses to Sweden and Iceland at their request, the Norwegian health ministry said Thursday.

Norway to send 200,000 AstraZeneca doses to Sweden and Iceland
Empty vials of the AstraZeneca vaccine. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

“I’m happy that the vaccines we have in stock can be put to use even if the AstraZeneca vaccine has been paused in Norway,” Health Minister Bent Høie said in a statement.

The 216,000 doses, which are currently stored in Norwegian fridges, have to be used before their expiry dates in June and July.

Sweden will receive 200,000 shots and Iceland 16,000 under the expectation they will return the favour at some point. 

“If we do resume the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, we will get the doses back as soon as we ask,” Høie said.

Like neighbouring Denmark, Norway suspended the use of the AstraZeneca jab on March 11 in order to examine rare but potentially severe side effects, including blood clots.

Among the 134,000 AstraZeneca shots administered in Norway before the suspension, five cases of severe thrombosis, including three fatal ones, had been registered among relatively young people in otherwise good health. One other person died of a brain haemorrhage.

On April 15, Norway’s government ignored a recommendation from the Institute of Public Health to drop the AstraZeneca jab for good, saying it wanted more time to decide.

READ MORE: Norway delays final decision on withdrawal of AstraZeneca vaccine 

The government has therefore set up a committee of Norwegian and international experts tasked with studying all of the risks linked to the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, which is also suspected of causing blood clots.

Both are both based on adenovirus vector technology. Denmark is the only European country to have dropped the AstraZeneca
vaccine from its vaccination campaign, and said on Tuesday it would “lend” 55,000 doses to the neighbouring German state of Schleswig-Holstein.