Justice minister calls for tighter bribery laws

In the wake of several high profile cases at home and abroad, Swedish justice minister Beatrice Ask has called for stricter laws governing bribery and corruption.

“We have had a law in place for many years but it has been unclear and has not been used in many contexts,” the minister told Sveriges Television (SVT).

In an effort to address the issue, Ask has handed draft legislation to the Legislative Council for review that would seek to simplify and clarify what constitutes bribery and corruption.

Among other things, the new bill will make it possible to punish Swedish companies that have used unscrupulous agents and bribery in international business dealings.

The proposed bill also includes tightening up the criminal code governing gifts, rewards and other benefits in industry.

Traders will now be able to design and follow a code that regulates the rewards and benefits which can be deemed acceptable within business circles.

The proposal also widens the circle of people that can be convicted for offering or accepting bribes.

In addition, the new bill includes language covering attempts to bribe volunteer officials at athletic competitions, whereby an athlete could be convicted even if the person accepting the bribe isn’t actually employed.

As a result, tennis and golf professionals who tried to bribe officials could be convicted of a crime, according to the new bill.

Another new rule allows for one’s close acquaintances to be convicted for accepting bribes given with the understanding that recipients would attempt to influence the behaviour of people close to them.

Current legislation regulating bribes dates from 1977 and has been criticized for being too complicated.

“It’s been unclear. Now it will be more clear as to which people can be convicted,” Ask told the TT news agency.

The most practical consequence of the new law is the widening of the circle of people that can be convicted of bribery.

Currently, bribery investigations often languish over time spent determining whether or not someone suspected of bribery can actually be charged with a crime.

One of the most high profile cases, which inadvertently paved the way for the new bill, was a housing scandal in Gothenburg in 2011.

Olle Lundgren, the former head of municipal housing company Poseidon, allegedly received 24 tonnes of free bricks with an estimated market value of at least 85,000 kronor ($13,500) from contractor Weinerberger.

The Gothenburg corruption scandal also involved 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.

A string of subsequent cases have also sharpened calls for better legislation.

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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.