Proof of Saudi meeting ‘lost’ to protect minister

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.

Proof of Saudi meeting 'lost' to protect minister

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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Sweden world’s 13th most peaceful nation

Sweden has been ranked the 13th most peaceful country in the world by a global peace index, down from 11th in 2014.

Sweden world's 13th most peaceful nation
Sweden's arms trade is keeping it down in the rankings. Photo: Lars Pehrson/SvD/TT

According to the 2015 Global Peace Index (GPI), recently released by the Institute for Economics and Peace, Iceland remains the world's most peaceful country.

Sweden's other Nordic neighbours Denmark, Finland and Norway all ranked in the top 20, taking the second, sixth and 17th spots respectively.

Denmark also came in second in the 2013 and 2014 reports, each time snapping at the heels of Iceland, which has been declared the world's most peaceful country each year since 2008.

According to the report, 15 of the 20 most peaceful countries in the world are in Europe, while the Middle East and North Africa remain the most violent regions in the world. The United States was at number 94, while Syria was at the very bottom of the 162-country list.

“The most substantial changes in the Index occurred in the Middle East and North Africa where several countries suffered from an upsurge in violence related to sectarian strife and civil conflicts,” the report noted.

Like in previous years, Sweden, which in 2014 celebrated two centuries of peace, is kept down in the rankings largely because it sells arms to other countries.

Despite enjoying a global reputation for peacemaking and generous foreign aid, the Scandinavian nation is the world's 11th largest exporter of weapons, including Saab's Jas Gripen jets, and has counted a number of regimes criticized for human rights abuses as its customers since the Cold War ended, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan.

READ ALSO: Sweden scraps controversial Saudi arms deal

The GPI comprises 23 indicators of the existence of violence or fear of violence, which include metrics such as the level of perceived criminality in the society, impact of terrorism, and military expenditure as percentage of the country's gross domestic product.

Each of the indicators for a given country is graded on a scale of one to five and then indexed into a final score, which can then be compared against other countries.

Sweden's indexed score was 1.36 while Iceland's was 1.148. In comparison, Syria's score was 3.645. Notably, Sweden scored around 1.0 or at least below 2.0 in nearly all areas apart from 'weapons exports' in which it received 5 out of 5.

A video explainer from the Institute for Economics and Peace is below and an interactive map can be accessed here