Gothenburg bribery trial gets under way

The first trial in a major bribery scandal began in Gothenburg on Thursday as a former housing chief faced charges of having accepted 24 tonnes of free bricks for a private building project.

Gothenburg bribery trial gets under way

Olle Lundgren, the former head of municipal housing company Poseidon, allegedly received free bricks with an estimated market value of at least 85,000 kronor ($13,500) from contractor Weinerberger.

Lundgren’s own wife alerted authorities to the alleged bribe, and is scheduled to testify against her husband in the case.

The Gothenburg corruption scandal also involves the municipal housing firm Familjebostäder and the city’s sports and clubs division, as well as the relationship between construction magnate Stefan Allbäck and municipal officials.

Prosecutor Nils-Eric Schultz smiled at reporters as he arrived at the district court but declined to comment on the case. Schultz began the trial by outlining the details of the case against Lundgren, who denies having committed an offence.

Lundgren’s lawyer, Anders Munck, said his client agreed he had received the bricks but insisted that he believed he had paid for them. Lundgren claimed to have paid 33,000 kronor to the company that delivered the bricks.

Until the bribery accusations emerged last year, Munck said his client was convinced he had covered the cost of the building materials.

“It was only in later years that he understood that he had paid for the transport of the bricks,” said Munck.

Lundgren told the court about his plans to build a house. He had decided to oversee the project himself and was in touch with a number of suppliers.

He said he had been looking for materials that needed no maintenance and decided to opt for Weinerberger’s bricks. He explained that Weinerberg had initiated the contact, having heard about his project from an architect.

“We agreed on a price, which I didn’t remember how high it was, but I thought it was a very good price,” he said.

Lundgren told Schulz he had not had any previous dealings with the company but did not consider that he was taking a risk working with them.

He agreed that the price he paid seemed very good, but said he did not feel he was given favourable treatment because of his position as head of Poseidon.

Bo Wenner, who worked for Weinerberger in 2003 when Lundgren received the delivery of bricks, told the court that the company had given Poseidon chief the bricks in the hope that he would help them out in the future.

“The brick market has dipped way down in recent years,” said Wenner. “We have had to resort to odd methods in order to sell, including for example special reduction to get onto the building market.

“We gave him the bricks in in exchange for him covering the transportation cost.”

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Sweden slips in global corruption rankings

Sweden has dropped from third to fourth in an annual ranking comparing the levels of perceived corruption around the world.

Sweden slips in global corruption rankings
How corrupt is Sweden? Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Its Scandinavian neighbour Denmark shared first place with New Zealand in this year's Corruption Perception Index (CPI), released by anti-corruption campaign group Transparency International on Wednesday and ranking how corrupted countries were seen to be in 2016.

Both Denmark and New Zealand were given a score of 90 on the 0 to 100 scale (highly corrupt to very clean), followed closely by Finland and Sweden, which scored 89 and 88 respectively.

While still in the top-five of 176 countries, Sweden found itself pushed down one notch from last year and the group's Sweden office warned that this was no time to be complacent.

“Sweden's good performance in the 2016 index does not mean that we are spared from corruption in the public sector,” Ulla Andrén, chairwoman of Transparency International Sweden, said in a statement.

“Over the past year we have unfortunately seen how core values have wavered considerably. Leading figures have turned out to lack an ethical compass and corrupt behaviour has damaged trust in various public institutions.”

READ ALSO: Why Denmark is world's least corrupt country

Major Swedish institutions were rocked by scandals last year, including claims of cronyism and cover-ups at the state auditor Riksrevisionen and tax agency Skatteverket. Some of the country's largest businesses, such as Telia and Ericsson, have also faced allegations of illicit payouts.

“We believe that everything colloquially referred to as cronyism is corruption,” Lotta Rydström, executive secretary of Transparency International Sweden, told The Local.

“Transparency International's definition of corruption is wider than just bribes: 'Corruption is abuse of entrusted power for personal gain', which includes nepotism, buddy contracts and so on.”

“I would probably also say that several bribe-related incidents in the business world have shown that Sweden is not as spared (from corruption) as many think,” she said.

Rydström warned that the corruption index does not cover local and regional councils, where much of the political decisions are made in Sweden. Municipalities and county councils make up around 70 percent of public administration in the country.

“A high rating does not mean that we can beat our chest and say we are still almost the best student in the classroom. Good can get better and there is plenty to work on. Public procurement, municipal auditing and whistleblower protection are some of the issues we are working on.”

As a whole, Transparency International said that no nation in the world – Sweden included – is doing enough to fight corruption.

“There are no drastic changes in Europe and Central Asia in the Corruption Perceptions Index 2016, with only a few exceptions. However, this does not mean that the region is immune from corruption. The stagnation does not indicate that the fight against corruption has improved, but quite the opposite,” it wrote in the report.