Bildt to come under more pressure over shares

Sweden's foreign minister Carl Bildt is likely to come under further pressure over his shareholding in Vostok Nafta, a holding company which owns a 1 percent stake in Russian gas company Gazprom. The Swedish government is expected to publish details of ministers' shareholdings on Friday.

Bildt, who served as prime minister from 1991-94, owns shares in Vostok Nafta with an estimated value of 6 million kronor. Some 90 percent of Vostok Nafta’s portfolio is accounted for by its share in Gazprom, the Russian company that controls 16 percent of the world’s gas reserves. Gazprom is half-owned and largely controlled by the Russian government.

Critics say that Bildt’s shareholding in Vostok Nafta poses a conflict of interest in his dealings with the Russian government as foreign minister. They also say that his position would compromise any negotiations over a planned gas pipeline across the Baltic Sea.

Protests over Bildt’s involvement in Vostok Nafta have been loudest from the Green Party. Spokesman Peter Eriksson has called Bildt’s indirect interest in Gazprom “very inappropriate,” arguing that any decision to approve the Baltic Sea pipeline would be questioned both inside and outside Sweden.

Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt has said he sees no problem with Bildt owning the shares. Reinfeldt’s press secretary said that the prime minister would make no further comment on the issue until the report on ministerial shares is published, something that is expected to happen on Friday.