“More and more people allege that Sweden has become more corrupt in the wake of the 'corruption scandals' which have broken in recent years,” Claes Sandgren, a professor in civil law at Stockholm University and chair of the Anti-corruption Institute, wrote in an opinion article published on Monday in the Dagens Nyheter (DN) newspaper.
“But there's a catch; neither recent studies nor crime statistics show that this is true.”
Sandgren cites a number of Swedish and international reports all of which, he argues, point to Sweden's reputation for low-levels of corruption being well-deserved.
Transparency International, for example, has consistently ranked Sweden among the least corrupt countries in its annual listing. In the group's most recent ranking, Sweden placed fourth.
According to the World Bank's “Governance Indicators”, Sweden ranks second among 27 European countries when it comes to regulatory quality and third in terms of control of corruption.
In addition, 93 percent of respondents to a survey of Swedish local politicians and civil servants conducted by Linnaeus University said that abuse of power in their municipality had decreased or remained unchanged.
Official statistics from Sweden's National Council on Crime Prevention (Brottsförebyggande rådet - Brå) also point to concerns about increasing corruption being a “mirage”, according to Sandgren, as the number of bribery convictions has dropped from 77 in 2006 down to three in 2010.
“The creation of the myth has its roots in a large number of people's own interest in overstating how widespread corruption is,” Sandgren writes, citing the media, researchers, politicians, accountants, and commentators who stand to gain more “attention, resources, and assignments” if corruption is seen to be on the rise.
He points to Sweden's 250-year history of building up institutions designed to minimise corrution in the country.
“A single corruption scandal can leave scratches on this edifice, nothing more,” he writes.
Nevertheless he argues that Swedes should continue to be “on our guard” against corruption.
“Not least the construction sector should clean up its act and there are, among other things, conflicts of interest in municipalities and friendly relationships that aren't necessarily illegal but can certainly damage trust,” writes Sandgren.
He suggests holding companies' top management responsible for bribery crimes in a way similar to how they are held responsible for workplace accidents according to Swedish employment protection laws.
In addition, Swedish municipalities need to do a better job applying rules which prevent them from purchasing goods or services from companies where a representative has been convicted of bribery crimes.
“Considering that public sector assignments are critical for certain companies, frequent use of these rules could have a great effect,” argues Sandgren.
The Anti-corruption Institute was founded in 1923 and falls under the auspices of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce, the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise (Svenskt Näringsliv) and trade group Svensk Handel.