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Bildt defends share dealings

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18:17 CET+01:00
Sweden's foreign minister Carl Bildt mounted a strong defence of his share dealings in a press conference on in Stockholm on Monday afternoon.

Bildt said he welcomed a new investigation by prosecutors into his share options in oil and gas investment company Vostok Nafta, but said that he had handled the issue consistently throughout.

Prosecutor Christer van der Kwast has said he would look at whether the options amounted to inappropriate remuneration or corruption.

But Bildt told a press conference at the foreign ministry on Monday afternoon that the options were "remuneration for a board position that I have held for a long time."

Bildt had said in the autumn that he was unable to give up the Vostok Nafta shares under company rules. But media reports suggested the opposite - that he should not have a right to the options since he resigned voluntarily. In any case, the board of the company decided that he should be allowed to keep them.

Bildt was asked whether this decision by the company could lead to the conclusion that he had taken a bribe, an accusation currently being looked at by prosecutors.

"Others can make that judgment," he said, and referred to the account of events posted by Vostok Nafta on its website.

But, he added, he had been consistent in his dealings:

"I said that I would dispose of the options as soon as possible. And that is what I did. I handled this exactly as I said at the beginning of October that I would," he told the press conference.

Vostok Nafta spokesman Robert Eriksson told news agency TT that the company had treated Bildt's options in the same way that it had handled options of a further five board members who had left the company in the past few years. All those former board members had been allowed to keep their options despite them leaving their positions.

"We have followed standard practice in the case of Carl Bildt.

Van der Kwast has been in contact with the company to obtain internal documents detailing how the Bildt case has been handled.

"We will provide the information that the prosecutor wants from us," said Eriksson.

Van der Kwast has also demanded documents from government offices.

Social Democrat party secretary Marita Ulvskog said that Bildt had given too many different versions of the options saga.

Bildt had first said that it was impossible for him to dispose of them, then it became clear that he could have disposed of them and then it became apparent that he had been granted them only after a special decision from Vostok Nafta's board, she said.

"It appears that he lied on this point," she said.

"If it turns out that he did not have a right to these options and that there was no legal obstacle to him disposing of the options, then I think it is very serious. In that case I would find it difficult to see how he could remain foreign minister. We need the facts on these points," Ulvskog said.

The Green Party has reported Bildt to the Swedish National Anti-Corruption Unit. Party spokesman Peter Eriksson said to TV4 on Sunday that the issue was "now a question of whether it was a gift or a plain bribe."

Bildt resigned his board position at Vostok Nafta, the assets of which are almost exclusively shares in Russian energy giant Gazprom, which is planning on building a gas pipeline in the Baltic Sea. This fact put Bildt in a very difficult position, his critics say.

Prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt backed his foreign minister, telling TV4 that Bildt had "handled these undertaking in the way he should have done."

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