Swedish firms face Iraq bribes probe

Swedish companies accused of paying kickbacks to Saddam Hussein’s regime as part of the scandal-hit UN Oil for Food programme are to be investigated by prosecutors in Stockholm.

Announcing the investigation in a statement on Monday, Sweden’s chief anti-corruption prosecutor Christer van der Kwast said he would look into “everything that could be considered relevant and which has a Swedish link that makes it possible to prosecute in Sweden.”

“This naturally means that we’re talking about an as yet unidentified group,” he said, but added that the investigation would look to identify both companies and individuals. They could be charged with breaking international sanctions or bribery, the prosecutor revealed.

According to van der Kwast, the inquiry will focus on companies named in the United Nations report on the issue, which was published last October.

Among the Swedish companies named in that report were engineering giant ABB, a Volvo subsidiary and Mölnlycke Health Care’s Belgian subsidiary. Atlas Copco Airpower, a Belgium-based subsidiary of the Swedish engineering company, is accused of paying $1.3 million, the largest bribe currently under investigation.

AB Volvo’s press officer Mårten Wikiforss said the company would “cooperate as much as we can.”

The UN report claimed that the company’s Volvo CE subsidiary had paid $300,000 to the Iraqi regime. Wikforss admits that the allegations appear to be true but claimed that the payments had not been made directly by Volvo CE, but by the company’s agent at the time.

The oil for food programme was founded in 1996 to allow Saddam Hussein’s regime to sell oil, with the condition that the money was used to buy food, medicines and other essential supplies.