Fugitive ‘entitled to state benefits’

A man wanted by Swedish justice for fraud can live in the west African state Togo for the rest of his life, supported by Swedish tax money. This week one of Sweden’s highest judicial figures decided that the Social Insurance Office should pay him interest and legal costs after it tried to stop his sick benefits.

The man, age 54, disappeared to Togo, western Africa, in 2002 after an initial court hearing over accusations of serious fraud. In October 2002 a court remanded him in custody in his absence.

Meanwhile, the Swedish Social Insurance Office kept paying out money for his keep directly into his bank account. The man had been on sick benefits before the arrest warrant was issued.

In late July 2003, ten months after the court remanded him in custody, the Social Insurance Office withdrew the man’s benefits, but the man appealed and won in Gothenburg’s District Administrative Court. The court ruled that while benefits can be denied to somebody who is sent to a prison awaiting trial, they can’t be denied to someone who is on the run.

“He will be entitled to the benefits for the rest of his life, as long as he remains in Togo. He can’t have the means to support himself withdrawn just because he is remanded in custody in his absence,” the man’s Swedish legal representative Claes-Håkan Rydberg told The Local.

The man argued successfully that while the rules allowed benefits to be withdrawn from people who have been in custody for more than sixty days, this only applies to people who have physically been in prisons, not people who should have been.

Now the suspected fraudster has won a further victory – the Chancellor of Justice ruled this week that the Insurance Office has to pay interest on the benefits that were originally withheld from the man. It has also been ordered to pay his legal bills of 8,800 kronor.

“There were no legal grounds for the Social Insurance Office to withdraw the money,” said Daniel Kjellgren, a lawyer at the Chancellor of Justice’s office.

“You actually have to physically be in an institution for at least 90 days for the rules to apply – the Social Insurance Office went too far.”

The Social Insurance Office may now work to get the rules changed.

“It’s not right for society to pay for people who are on the run from justice,” said Robin Lapidus.

“I imagine that this question will be discussed, and it is possible that we will then work to get a change in the law,” he said.

The victory for the man may have been soured, however, as all the money awarded to him by the Chancellor of Justice is likely to go directly to his lawyers, who say he has substantial unpaid bills.

“He’s not that popular with me at the moment,” lawyer Claes-Håkan Rydberg told The Local.