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Proof of Saudi meeting 'lost' to protect minister

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Proof of Saudi meeting 'lost' to protect minister
11:26 CEST+02:00
An official with Sweden's Defence Research Agency (Totalförsvarets forskningsinstitut, FOI) requested that documents related at a secret Swedish-Saudi weapons deal not be recorded in order to “protect” defence minister Sten Tolgfors, according to a new report.

The documents included the signed agreement entailing plans to build an arms factory in Saudi Arabia, which were signed by Saudi general Nasser and Cecilia Looström, a department head at Sweden's Ministry of Defence.

The meeting took place in Stockholm, 2008.

The morning after, Looström, who was acting as a replacement for Tolgfors in the meeting, asked for the minutes before they could be recorded.

“I can confirm that the meeting took place. I can even confirm that Cecilia Looström rang to request the documents that were signed in the meeting. We never got a chance to register them,” said Madelene Sandström, director of FOI at the time, to the Aftonbladet paper.

When asked why the documents were requested, Sandström told the paper that Looström had been telling her staff, “We must protect the minister”.

Aftonbladet revealed that general Nasser had initially demanded a meeting with someone who matched his rank, and it was decided that Tolgfors and state secretary Håkan Jevrell would represent the Swedish defence ministry.

However, according to the new revelations, Jevrell never showed up to the original meeting, forcing it to be cancelled and another to be scheduled for the next day, this time with the lower ranked official, Looström.

A source of the paper explained that it was "unthinkable" that someone of Looström's rank would be allowed to attend negotiations of such "sensitivity and importance".

It is alleged that Tolgfors and his closest aides were kept away from the whole process because it was predicted that it would be difficult to manage continued relationships between Saudi Arabia and the centre-right Alliance government.

The revelations are the latest development in an ongoing story, first reported in early March by Sveriges Radio (SR), detailing secret plans by FOI to help Saudi Arabia build a plant to produce anti-tank weapons.

Part of the plans, dubbed Project Simoom, involved the alleged creation of a shell company in order hide Swedish involvement in the planned construction of the plant.

The meeting from which Looström reportedly withheld documents was held as part of ongoing discussions about how Sweden could provide assistance with the project though the creation of a shell company in order to hide Swedish involvement.

FOI's own investigation into the matter revealed information leading the agency to believe “there are suspicions that a crime may have been committed”, prompting FOI head Jan-Olof Lind to report the incident to prosecutors.

Last week, prosecutors launched a preliminary criminal investigation into the matter to determine whether the secret Saudi weapons deal may have violated the law.

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