SHARE
COPY LINK
SWEDISH-SAUDI ARMS DEAL

SAUDI

Swedish defence minister Tolgfors resigns

Sweden's minister of defence, Sten Tolgfors, announced on Thursday he was resigning his post, citing the ongoing revelations about Sweden's secret deal to build a weapons plant in Saudia Arabia as "the final straw".

Swedish defence minister Tolgfors resigns

“I have today, upon request from Sten Tolgfors, decided to relieve Sten Tolgfors (of his duties),” prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt told a news conference on Thursday.

Tolgfors explained that he’s been considering stepping down since last autumn, but cited the ongoing Saudi arms deal scandal as a contributing factor to his decision to resign at this time.

“There was no intrigue behind the resignation,” Tolgfors said.

“I’m happy to have been a part of an armed forces for which I have the utmost esteem. But my energy has begun to wane. And the media attention of the last few weeks was the last straw.”

Reinfeldt announced that current infrastructure minister Catharina Elmsäter-Svärd would temporarily step in as defence minister in the wake of Tolgfors’s departure.

The prime minister also praised Tolgfors for his efforts in helping the Swedish military through a difficult time of transition which included the abandoning of conscription and a move to a more mission-based military amid difficult budget cuts.

“Sten has worked hard and in a goal oriented way and the military’s budget is balanced. Sten Tolgfors deserves recognition for that,” said Reinfeldt.

Reinfeldt admitted that many will assume that the decision was taken “solely because of discussions surrounding Saudi Arabia” but emphasized that discussions of Tolgfors departure had been going on for months.

Tolgfors’s resignation comes amid continuing revelations about secret plans by a branch of the Swedish military to help build an arms plant in Saudi Arabia.

On Wednesday, it emerged that an official from Sweden’s Defence Research Agency (Totalförsvarets forskningsinstitut, FOI) requested that documents related the secret Swedish-Saudi weapons deal not be recorded in order to “protect” Tolgfors.

The documents included a signed agreement detailing plans to build an advanced arms factory for anti-tank missiles in Saudi Arabia, according to the report in the Aftonbladet newspaper.

The revelations were the latest development in an ongoing story, first reported in early March by Sveriges Radio (SR), detailing secret plans by FOI to help the Saudis build a weapons plant.

As FOI’s plans to provide assistance with the construction of the factory were considered to be on the border of what the agency had the right to do, a shell company, SSTI, was set up by an FOI official with cash borrowed from Sweden’s military intelligence agency, MUST, in order hide Swedish involvement in project, dubbed Project Simoom.

It’s been shown that people under Tolgfors at the defence ministry were aware of the project, but the defence minister has previously denied having any knowledge of SSTI, which was set up in prior to March 2010 when it was abandoned.

FOI’s own investigation into the matter revealed information leading the agency to believe “a crime may have been committed”, prompting FOI head Jan-Olof Lind to report the incident to prosecutors, who last week launched a preliminary criminal investigation into the matter.

During Thursday’s press conference, Tolgfors had little to say about the Saudi arms plant project.

“When it comes to the Saudi debate of recent weeks, I have nothing more to add. The viewpoint I had on March 9th is the viewpoint I still have,” he said, explaining that several investigations into FOI’s involvement with the Saudis are underway.

“I don’t plan to comment more on this matter, but the issue will continue via these processes.

“I can say however that the media attention in recent weeks has hastened and facilitated my decision.”

Social Democratic-leaning political scientist Ulf Bjereld said he’s not very surprised over Tolgfors’s resignation in light of the Saudi arms deal scandal.

“You could say that Tolgfors became too heavy a burden for the Alliance government as this business continued to develop. I think it will be something of a relief, not only for Tolgfors personally, but also for the prime minister,” Bjereld told the TT news agency.

He added that it’s too early to say whether or not Tolgfors will ultimately be held responsible for any wrongdoing related to the Saudi weapons plant project.

“That’s something an investigation can show after the fact. There have been several questions that Tolgfors hasn’t been able to answer. But it’s too early to say exactly what responsibility he had,” he said.

Tolgfors, of the Moderate Party, has been defence minister since 2007 after serving as Sweden’s trade minister from the time the current Alliance government took office in 2006.

Tolgfors succeeded Mikael Odenberg, who resigned in September 2007 to protest against planned cuts to Sweden’s defence budget.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

SAUDI

Arab League backs Saudi silencing of Sweden

Arab foreign ministers have criticized Sweden's comments about Saudi Arabia while the EU has expressed regret after Sweden's foreign minister Margot Wallström accused the oil rich nation of blocking her speech at an Arab League meeting.

Arab League backs Saudi silencing of Sweden
The Arab League meeting in Cairo. Photo: TT

Margot Wallström said on Monday that Saudi officials had stopped her from making her opening address to the meeting due to her stance on human rights.

But Arab foreign ministers later criticised Sweden for its comments about Saudi Arabia.

“The ministers have voiced their condemnation and astonishment at the issuance of such statements that are incompatible with the fact that the Constitution of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is based on Sharia,” read a statement issued by the ministers following their Arab League meeting in Cairo and reported by the Swedish media on Tuesday.

“Sharia has guaranteed human rights and preserved people’s lives, possessions, honour and dignity. The ministers consider the comments as irresponsible and unacceptable,” the statement added.

Saudi rejection a 'punch in the nose' for Sweden

Wallström had been invited as an honorary guest to the Arab ministers' meeting in praise of her government's decision to recognise Palestine in October.

Her cancelled opening speech – published by the Swedish foreign ministry – mentioned neither Saudi Arabia nor Wallström's feminist foreign policy agenda but stressed women's and human rights.

Wallström's press secretary Erik Boman told The Local on Tuesday that the Arab League's statement "should be interpreted as a way of Saudi Arabia trying to save its face".

"The statement was made public yesterday, and we knew about it," he said.

"It is one of very many statements on different issues released by the Arab League after a meeting – by tradition they do that kind of thing."

Earlier in the day, Sweden's Prime Minister said it was right to question Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses.

“Margot Wallström was invited as a guest of honour. Of course it’s a pity it was cancelled but when we see something wrong, like human rights violations, we have to express what we think,” he told Swedish public broadcaster SVT.


Margot Wallström on a visit to Finland. Photo: TT

On Monday Wallström said it was a "shame" that she had been blocked from speaking.

"The explanation we have been given is that Sweden has highlighted the situation for democracy and human rights and that is why they do not want me to speak," she told Swedish news agency TT.

An Arab diplomat confirmed to the AFP news agency that Saudi Arabia had stopped the Swede from making her opening speech.

Meanwhile the EU has expressed concerns over the move.

"We regret that the Swedish foreign minister was not able to deliver her speech," European Commission spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic told a press briefing on Tuesday.

EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini will speak to Wallström and Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi "to understand this situation", she added.

Wallström has rarely commented on Saudi Arabia but in January she slammed the kingdom's treatment of blogger Raef Badawi, who had been sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison for insulting Islam.
 
Saudi Arabia is a key trading partner for Sweden in the Middle East and Sweden’s government is continuing to work behind the scenes on preparations for a renewal of a controversial cooperation agreement with Saudi Arabia, which includes the sale of military arms.  
 
The Green Party, the junior partner in Sweden’s government coalition, wants to rip up the ten-year-old deal. 

But the Social Democrat party – of which Margot Wallström is a member – has indicated that it would like to preserve the agreement in some form, although the issue has caused an internal party rift.