Saab ‘rewarded’ official who drafted Saudi deal

Saab 'rewarded' official who drafted Saudi deal
After the resignation last week of Sweden’s defence minister over a military deal with Saudi Arabia, critics have baulked at revelations that at least four well-placed senior civil servants and a former government minster had switched to jobs with defence firm Saab.

One former secretary of state at the defence ministry, Jonas Hjelm, worked on formulating the controversial deal to build a Saudi weapons plans shortly before taking up a job offer from Saab, newspaper Aftonbladet reports.

”It’s startling,” Green Party spokeswoman Åsa Romson told the paper.

”This suggests that he has information that’s valuable to Saab and that they are rewarding him for that. One suspects that there were very close ties.”

Jonas Hjelm was secretary of state for Sweden’s then defence minister, Leni Björklund (Social Democrat), when Sweden in 2005 inked the Saudi agreement that cost Sten Tolgfors (Moderate Party) his job last week.

For Saab, the deal equated to a five billion kronor ($740 million) order for a radar system. But Hjelm insists the lucrative job he accepted in December 2006 was in no way a ”reward” for services rendered.

”I think they looked at my strengths and weaknesses and concluded that they wanted to recruit me,” he told Aftonbladet.

But Clas Sandgren, head of the Swedish anti-bribery group Institutet mot Mutor (IMM), said he believed a secretary of state in Hjelm’s position should refrain from going straight into a job in the arms industry.

”It can damage trust in how he performs his work as a secretary of state,” he said.

In the United Kingdom, the newspaper noted, senior civil servants are asked to contact the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments if they accept jobs in the private sector within two years of leaving office to ensure there is ”no cause for suspicion of impropriety”.

In Sweden, no such restrictions exist to prevent potentially corrosive “revolving doors” appointments.

”We have a consensus culture that makes us world champions at sitting on two chairs,” said anti-bribery chief Sandgren.

”People think: ’Sure, I have dual roles, but I can handle it.’ But even if an individual person can manage that, it’s not enough. It’s also essential for the general public to have faith in that person’s ability to manage it,” he told Aftonbladet.

One time cabinet member Jan Nygren (Social Demcrat), who has also worked for Saab, said Sweden would be well advised to introduce the sort of waiting period that exists in the UK.

”It’s an important question. There are trust issues in a lot of cases,” he said.

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