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Probe dropped, Juholt to remain party leader

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Probe dropped, Juholt to remain party leader
15:33 CEST+02:00
Prosecutors said Friday they were dropping an investigation into improper reimbursements claimed by Håkan Juholt as the Social Democrats' executive committee announced it still had confidence in the embattled party leader.

The powerful committee had been huddled behind closed doors all day on Friday in what was described as a meeting that would decide Juholt's fate.

The crisis meeting had been called in response to an ever-growing scandal stemming from revelations that Juholt had been pocketing accommodation reimbursements he wasn't entitled to.

Around 3.30pm on Friday afternoon, three members of the committee emerged to a swarm of reporters, announcing that the executive committee was united in its continuing confidence in Juholt.

Committee member Sven-Erik Österberg explained how challenging the situation had been and that the meeting was filled with long and difficult conversations.

“It's a very troublesome situation,” he said.

“Our party leader is prepared to continue working and we support our party leader in his work.”

Before heading into the meeting early Friday morning, Juholt said he planned to tell the committee about his plan for the party, emphasizing that the party's rank and file held his fate in their hands.

“Ultimately it's determined by the party members. Ultimately, it's done by the citizens,” he said.

Following the meeting, Juholt and party secretary Carin Jämtin held a joint press conference at Social Democrat party headquarters on Sveavägen in Stockholm.

“The party leader himself wants to, and has the will to go out across the country and discuss and talk about the situation that has occurred,” Jämtin told reporters.

“We are united in our support of that decision.

“We believe it's going to be a long road to win back confidence. But we are ready to take that road,” she added.

Juholt explained that began the executive committee meeting promising to travel across the country to “listen, talk, and most of all hear” what people think.

“There are so many people in our country with justifiably high ambitions for social democracy, who have high ambitions for me as party leader, who so deeply want to see the country move in another political direction than that the government is taking,” Juholt told reporters during the press conference.

“I want to apologise to those who feel that I've disappointed them. I feel in my marrow the anger and the disappointment that many people feel.”

Shortly after the executive committee emerged to announce its continuing support for Juholt, chief prosecutor Björn Ericson issed a decision that he was dropping an ongoing preliminary criminal investigation launched in the wake of the reimbursement scandal.

When the details emerged a week ago in a report in the Aftonbladet daily, Juholt initially apologised and agreed to pay back the outstanding amount of wrongly-claimed payments, reported to be 160,000 kronor ($23,960).

Juholt has claimed that he was unaware of the Riksdag regulations which stipulate that MPs are not allowed to claim reimbursement for the full rent if they, as in Juholt's case, share their apartment.

According to Ericson, there was insufficient evidence to show that any crime had been committed in the matter.

While Juholt may have submitted faulty information on his reimbursement forms, there was noting to suggest that he willfully mislead officials at the Riksdag in failing to mention he shared his flat with his girlfriend.

In addition to police reports about Juholt's accommodation reimbursements, police have also received complaints about Juholt's rental car allowances, as well as funding he received for a trip to Belarus.

“There have been quite a lot of complaints filed. We're going to look at them next week,” Ericson told the TT news agency.

Following a review of the additional complaints, the prosecutor will decide whether or not there may be grounds for additional preliminary investigations.

“We've also received complaints about other people for the same incidents,” said Ericson, although he refused to comment on who the other people might be.

Gothenburg University political science professor Ulf Bjereld called the Social Democrats' choice to stick by Juholt a "wise decision".

Had Juholt been ousted, Bjereld wrote on his blog, the Social Democrats would have been "paralyzed" while they worked to find yet another leader.

"The party would have been demobilized politically," he wrote.

Bjereld added that much hard work remains for Juholt to regain the faith of voters and party members.

"It's not impossible, but the uphill climb is very steep," he wrote.

Meanwhile, Södertörn University political scientist Nicholas Aylott said he was "certainly surprised" that Juholt had survived the day.

"I'm surprised the executive committee didn't conclude that it's going to be impossible for him to regain his authority," Aylott told The Local.

He argued that keeping Juholt deprives the party of an opportunity to "make a collective choice" about the direction it wants to take.

"What you're left with is a leader without a mandate to do one thing or the other," he said.

He added that party insiders must have nevertheless decided that the process of choosing a new leader would have been more painful than simply sticking with Juholt, despite the damage he may have sustained as a result of the scandal.

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