Persson aide grilled on tsunami

Göran Persson was told by his most senior aide on the day following the 2004 tsunami catastrophe that the situation was under control, a Swedish parliamentary inquiry has heard.

But questioning of Lars Danielsson, the prime minister’s state secretary, revealed that worrying information was already coming through early in the morning of 26th December, the day of the disaster.

Opposition members of the parliamentary constitution committee probed Danielsson on why he didn’t realise early on that Sweden had been hit hard by the tsunami.

The chairman of the committee, Moderate Party deputy Göran Lennmarker, cited a report that arrived from the Department of Defence at 6.28 am on the 26th saying that a seven metre-high tsunami had swept over Phuket, destroying everything in its path. The report also said that 20,000 Swedes were in the area.

Danielsson had read the report, but not drawn the conclusion that Sweden had suffered a national catastrophe.

“Nobody else did either,” he told the committee.

Lennmarker continued to press Danielsson, and asked whether the Prime Minister’s Office was not sufficiently competent to understand when Sweden had been hit by a disaster. This brought a protest from the committee’s vice-chairman, Social Democrat MP Göran Magnusson.

“The chairman is drawing conclusions that the committee itself should perhaps be drawing in a few weeks.”

Danielsson had his first phone conversation with Göran Persson at 7.45 that morning. Both had seen reports on international news channels and agreed to follow developments closely. Lennmarker wanted to know whether Persson was informed about the report from the Department of Defence, but Danielsson said he couldn’t remember the specifics of what they had talked about.

Christian Democrat member Ingvar Svensson questioned Danielsson’s claim that he arrived at his office at 10 am on the 26th, saying he wanted to see the log-in details from the state secretary’s computer.

During the day, Danielsson had contact with Jonas Hjelm, the most senior official at the Defence Department and Gunnar Holmgren, the head of the government chancellery.

According to Danielsson, it was obvious that the Foreign Ministry was responsible for the government’s reaction. Committee members asked how he could tell the prime minister that the situation was under control.

Danielsson has previously claimed that he spoke with Hans Dahlgren, one of the Foreign Ministry’s most senior officials, on three occasions on the day of the disaster. Dahlgren, however, has denied that the calls took place, something which has led Danielsson to question how well he remembers what happened.This memory lapse remained during Thursday’s questioning.

Dahlgren followed Danielsson to give evidence to the committee. He started by defending his role, saying that December’s Catastrophe Commission report was unfair to him.

“I don’t want to wriggle out of my own responsibility, and I have not denied it. My responsibility is to lead the work under the foreign minister. But I was not head of operations.”

TT/The Local