Swedish free school head convicted for tax fraud

The principal of a Stockholm-area free school who "used the school as her personal bank account" has been convicted for falsifying invoices to avoid paying taxes.

Following her conviction on Wednesday, the principal of the publicly-funded, privately-managed Intercultural Education (Interkulturell Utbildning) in the Stockholm suburb of Spånga has been sentenced to one year in prison and a five-year ban on conducting business operations.

The 46-year old woman wrote falsified invoices and withheld 1.7 million kronor ($260,000) in taxes from the government before getting caught.

“She was basically using the school as her own personal bank account,” prosecutor Jan Tibbling explained to the newspaper Svenska Dagbladet (SvD).

Wednesday’s conviction also led to a 500,000 kronor fine for the company, on top of the prison time and business ban.

Sweden’s education watchdog agency, the Swedish Schools Inspectorate (Svenska skolinspektionen), looked into the school a year ago, following signs that something was amiss.

“Study results were poor, the equality plan was deficient, and the finances were unstable, but it improved,” Kjell Hedwall, department manager at the Swedish Schools Inspectorate, told the newspaper.

“Now we have to investigate if the crimes committed affected the students, if they haven’t received the education they’re entitled to. If this is the case, we may withdraw the school’s permit.”

The school has previously received 35 million kronor a year, but these payments will be stopped once the sentence is finalised.

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Sweden must discuss banning religious schools: minister

Sweden needs to discuss whether to ban religious schools amid reports that some schools are segregating boys and girls, Minister for Upper Secondary School Aida Hadzialic has argued.

Sweden must discuss banning religious schools: minister
Aida Hadzialic. Photo: Marcus Ericsson/TT

The minister is calling for multi-party talks in parliament to discuss how to “really guarantee that school classes are free from religious elements”, she said in an interview with newspaper Aftonbladet. 

“The schools law stipulates that school tuition must be secular, but we are receiving worrying signals that this is not the case, that girls and boys are being taught separately. We can’t have it like that,” said Hadzialic. 

The minister said she would push for change in parliament this autumn after the education ministry was informed of schools separating boys and girls. 

“Swedish schools should be for everybody, they should break down segregation and form the basis for Sweden to stay strong.” 

Sweden's free school system of state-funded but privately run schools was introduced in 1992 and paved the way for religious organisations to operate schools as long as they stuck to the secular Swedish curriculum.

Aida Hadzialic, a 29-year-old born in Bosnia-Hertzagovina, was relatively new to politics when Prime Minister Stefan Löfven named her in his cabinet in 2014. She worked as a lawyer until 2010. 

SEE ALSO: Sweden tries to rein in religion at free schools