Bildt may be forced to sell Russian shares

Carl Bildt's shareholdings in the Russian oil and gas industry are legally above-board but a potential conflict of interest may force the foreign minister to sell. The construction of a major gas pipeline near the Swedish island of Gotland may prove to be too close for comfort.

Bildt’s shares in Russian investment company Vostok Nafta have an estimated total value of 6 million kronor, according to Affärsvärlden. Ninety per cent of Vostok Nafta’s portfolio consists of the Russian gas giant Gazprom.

The issue of a planned gas pipeline in the Baltic is expected to be high on the agenda when EU leaders meet with Russian president Vladimir Putin later today.

According to legal experts however there are no regulations stipulating that a government minister may not own shares.

“He has to inform parliament about his shares. But other than that there are no regulations. In theory he could sit down and negotiate with Russia about gas pipelines” said law professor Joakim Nergelius.

“There is a general ban on side-lines for ministers. Consequently, Carl Bildt could not sit on a company board while he was foreign minister. But shares are not considered to be a side-line,” Nergelius added.

But several commentators, including some of Bildt’s coalition partners, see a clear conflict of interests.

“It would feel strange if he sat down and negotiated with Russia on energy agreements and gas deliveries,” the Liberals’ Birgitta Ohlsson told TV4.