On July 1st of this year, Swedish journalists Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye were arrested after having ventured into the disputed Ogaden Province in eastern Ethiopia in the company of soldiers from the ONLF guerrillas.
They were found guilty of terror crimes by an Ethiopian court on Wednesday.
The story of the Swedes is more than business as usual, for the Ethiopian regime and for the Swedish government.
The affair has once again put the spotlight on Carl Bildt’s previous involvement in the mining and oil group, The Lundin Group – founded by the now deceased, controversial Adolf H. Lundin – and listed on the Stockholm and Toronto stock exchanges.
This time it’s about Carl Bildt sitting on the board and being involved in negotiating the agreement between Lundin Petroleum and the Ethiopian regime in Addis Ababa.
And it was precisely the Lundin Group’s presence and crimes against humanity allegedly committed in connection with the establishment of the deal that the Swedish journalists wanted to investigate.
When it became known that the Swedes had been arrested Carl Bildt commented: “It’s an area we have been advised against traveling to because it is a dangerous area.”
The foreign minister’s statement has caused concern and anger among Schibbye and Persson’s fellow journalists, and many Swedish publishers are today asking the question: Whose interests does Carl Bildt represent – the captured Swedish citizens’ or the Ethiopian regime?
Or perhaps his own?
And Sweden’s largest newspaper, Aftonbladet, is campaigning on its cultural pages for his resignation.
The suspicion has not exactly diminished after Göteborgs-Posten (GP) got an interview with the head of Africa Oil in Addis Abeba, James Phillips, where he claims that he had a close cooperation with the former Swedish ambassador to Ethiopia, Staffan Tillander, and that Africa Oil and the Swedish ambassador on a regular basis exchanged “security info” and travelled in Ogaden together.
This leads to the conclusion that it’s OK for Swedish companies with questionable reputations to be in Ogaden, but for Swedish journalists investigating crimes against humanity, it is not.
But the Ethiopian affair is just one of several that are haunting the Swedish foreign minister after his seven years in the Lundin sphere.
Let us go back ten years to the year 2000. It was the year that the former prime minister (1991-1994) and EU envoy to the Balkans (1995) joined the Lundin Petroleum’s board of directors.
The seven years with the Lundin Group that followed would make Carl Bildt a wealthy man. But at what price?
His time as a “Lundin man” follows him like a dark shadow that he can’t shake.
This is because The Lundin Group is not just any other listed company.
The founder, the Swedish rock engineer and oil and gas magnate Adolf H. Lundin, made a fortune back in the 1970s when he came across huge natural gas fields in Qatar.
However, the company attracted international attention the first time in 1984, when, despite the UN boycott, it mined gold in South Africa. Adolf H. Lundin, however, couldn’t be bothered with the criticism: “I do not understand the Swedish rage against this beautiful country,” he told the Swedish newspaper Expressen.
The next storm of criticism came in 1996. This time, after The Lundin Group was blacklisted by the United Nations who believed that the company had plundered the Congo for its assets.
Today, the Lundin sphere is the second largest owner of the Tenke Fungurume facility (ownership amounts to 24.5 percent) but the mine continues to be the subject of criticism from NGOs.
Among other things, the Lundin sphere and the other owners have been criticized for having displaced people who today are forced to live under canvas, although they were promised decent housing.
After the deals in the Congo, the Lundin ravage there has been compared to the ruthless imperialism in Joseph Conrad’s novel “Heart of Darkness” in the Swedish media.
So who then was Adolf H. Lundin (1938 – 2006)? A modern variant of the ivory collector Kurtz in Joseph Conrad’s novel, or a charming Indiana Jones type?
Bildt, who wrote Lundin’s obituary, described him like this:
“Adolf is a true global entrepreneur of a species that unfortunately we hardly have in Sweden.”
The descriptions of Adolf H. Lundin as 100 percent contractor is substantiated by his own description of himself:
“We work without regard to political risks. (…) The only thing that is important to us is that what we are looking for can be something big.”
But for those who read the authorized biography written by journalist Robert Eriksson, now responsible at the company for Investor Relations in Europe, a different picture is presented of the tycoon who built up the Lundin empire: Adolf H. Lundin did indeed have political passion.
He was an ardent anti-Communist who was involved in the Washington, DC-based conservative think tank, The Heritage Foundation.
Adolf H. Lundin sponsored Ronald Reagan’s election campaign; in return, he and his wife Eva were invited to the Reagent inauguration in 1981. The program included a show with Frank Sinatra that the couple watched from the front row.
So what was Adolf H. Lundin’s position towards doing business with communist countries?
He answered author Robert Eriksson like this:
“I would not have dreamed of doing business with Soviet Communist politicians.”
When it came to the German Nazis, however, the answer is different:
“That I certainly would have done. There was no one who knew what really happened there until very late, at the end of World War II.”
Among all of the controversial projects that Adolf H. Lundin initiated, there is one which even today – five years after Adolf H. Lundin’s death – continues to drain the company and the Swedish foreign minister’s trust capital: Sudan.
Since the summer of 2010 there has been an ongoing criminal investigation by the International Public Prosecution Office in Stockholm concerning Lundin Petroleum’s operations in Sudan.
When Carl Bildt in 2000 agreed to become a member of the board of the Lundin Group, the company had already been active there for three years. Human rights groups were early to assert that the government bombed villages and killed and expelled the local population in the province of Unity State (also called the Western Upper Nile), so that Lundin Petroleum could prospect for oil undisturbed.
But as usual, when accused of unethical business, the company was unresponsive to criticism. When Carl Bildt was questioned in the Riksdag’s Constitutional Committee in April 2007 (this time about his options in the Lundin company Vostok Nafta, all of whose assets were in Russian Gazprom) he rejected the criticism, countering that his commitment has contributed to peace in the region.
When after the hearing in the constitutional committee, reporters pressed Carl Bildt it ended as it often does with the Swedish foreign minister: he berated them, pushed on factual errors, often petty, in the questions – and got laughs and sympathy on his side.
After the hearing in the constitutional committee he appeared in the Swedish media more as a hero of peace in Sudan, rather than a dubious businessman.
And he has continued to be one of the Reinfeldt government’s most popular ministers. The criticism of him and his commitment to The Lundin Group has been brushed aside as “leftist propaganda.”
However, lately support for Carl Bildt has begun to fade.
His arrogant attitude to the case of the Swedish journalist Dawit Isaak, who has been imprisoned for 10 years in Eritrea without trial, has created discontent among Swedish journalists. His unwillingness to criticize first Iran (where Lundin has been active through its subsidiary Lundin Munir) and then Qaddafi, whose regime the Lundin Group long had close relations with, has disappointed many of his former supporters.
While the majority of the world’s democratic leaders condemned Qhaddafi when he attacked demonstrators with fighter jets, Bildt took another position.
“It has nothing to do with supporting one or the other, it has to do with obtaining stability and a reasonable development,” he said.
Yet again the question needed to be raised: Did the Swedish foreign minister’s peculiar, tactful attitude towards crimes against humanity have any connection with his time as a Lundin board member?
His veto recently against EU-sanctions against Syria – called “The Ericsson factor” because of Swedish pundits’ analysis that he voted against full sanctions to protect the Swedish telecom company’s interests – has also created amazement.
And now, on Wednesday, two Swedish journalists were found guilty of terror crimes by an Ethiopian court.
Lundin Petroleum first established itself in Ethiopia in 2006. The situation in Somali Ethiopia, as the area is also called, was difficult even before Lundin started looking for gas and oil there. Security consultants warned Lundin against establishing operations in the Ogaden – but in vain.
The company signed a contract with the Ethiopian regime.
And in connection with the establishment, the government took the opportunity to “clean up” so that no one or anything could interfere with the exploitation.
That they wanted to get rid of various rebel groups and warring tribes is not surprising, but the allegations of the methods used are familiar ones when it comes to how the Lundin Group does business in Africa: burned villages, people displacement, and systematic rape.
That is at least what human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch and other experts claim. But the documentation of the regime’s abuses in Somali Ethiopia is far from satisfactory.
The regime has effectively isolated the area, and to visit it unlawfully is considered a terrorist crime.
This means that the army can feel safe – it’s not possible to produce any evidence that could lead to prosecution in The Hague.
But multinationals in place there, such as the Swedish Lundin Group (Lundin Petroleum’s operations were taken over by African Oil, in which they still have a strong interest) have had little to fear.
The same applies to political socialites such as Carl Bildt.
The Lundin Group’s business in Ethiopia has received little media exposure.
And while the criticism of Bildt’s handling of the Ethiopia-Swedes is growing in strength, there is also a preliminary investigation which should may also cause the foreign minister to lose sleep: the International Public Prosecution Office in Stockholm’s investigation of crimes against humanity in Sudan 1997-2003.
No one yet has been informed they are under suspicion, and the prosecutor, Magnus Elving, has not even mentioned that it is Lundin Oil currently under investigation.
But he confirmed that the investigation started because of a report by a human rights organization that explicitly criticized this particular company.
When I talk with Magnus Elving he says:
“So far we have devoted ourselves to gathering documentation. Now we are beginning to approach the stage where it becomes necessary to call in [people] for questioning.”
Prosecutor Elving is optimistic: “The investigation will take at least another year, but we will not give up so easily.”
Adolf H. Lundin died in 2006 and today the group is led by sons Lukas and Ian Lundin.
They have invested considerable resources in re-profiling the Group and making it more socially acceptable. They have started a philanthropic operation – Lundin for Africa, and have also donated $100 million to the Clinton Foundation.
In a business context, The Lundin Group has made headlines recently for having made a giant oil discovery in the North Sea that caused its shares to shoot up.
Despite happy charities and investors, questions about what really happened when Lundin Petroleum established itself in Somali Ethiopia have not disappeared.
Recently, when The Lundin Group was discussed at a conference on conflict minerals at Clark University in Worcester Massachusetts, a participant commented:
“Was it the Lundin family that Stieg Larsson had in mind when he drew his portrait of capitalists?”
Leo Lagercrantz is an award winning investigative journalist and former editor of the opinion pages at the Swedish tabloid Expressen.
A previous version of the article was originally published in the Expressen newspaper in October