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Life in prison for Swedish mafia kingpin

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Life in prison for Swedish mafia kingpin
14:03 CEST+02:00
The head of Södertälje's organized crime "Network" was sentenced to life in prison on Thursday, concluding the high-profile retrial that puts an end to one of Sweden's largest ever police investigations.

Gang leader Bernard Khouri was among 18 defendants who were originally convicted in August 2012 for his role in several murders. The verdict was tossed out, however, over concerns about conflict of interest among one of the lay judges who presided over the case.

But on Thursday the Södertälje District Court issued a new guilty verdict for Khouri, the leader of the "Södertälje Network", sentencing him to life in prison.

"Eighteen people have in different regards, been charged with conspiracy to commit murder, murder, being an accomplice to murder, aggravated extortion, aggravated robbery, and kidnapping," the court said in a statement.

Three of seven were acquitted on charges of being accomplices to double murder, but were convicted for other serious crimes. Seventeen of the 18 were handed prison sentences ranging from one year to life. One defendant was sentenced to seven months in a juvenile detention facility.

"The network's chief income has come from illegal gambling and extortion or other illegal debt collections," the court wrote.

While reported crime has gone down since the gang's incarceration, police said, some residents had cited fears the syndicate could be rebuilt - a claim not found credible by police who took part in the investigation.

"A person can always go back to organized crime, but not in the same way. The key people are gone, and the Network's trademark has been destroyed," head of the investigation Gunnar Appelgren told The Local earlier this year.

On Thursday morning, ahead of the verdict, local police officer Anders Göranzon said law enforcers had not, however, ruled out that Network members pondered a relaunch.

"They're licking their wounds, and will eventually try to re-establish themselves after reconstructing," Göranzon told Sveriges Radio (SR).

Earlier in the summer, the local newspaper Länstidningen (LT) reported that alleged kingpin Bernard Khouri, who was being tried for conspiracy to commit murder, looked away as the prosecution showed pictures of two murdered brothers during the trial.

There were originally eight people standing trial for their role in the double homicide, but the first verdict found three of them not guilty. The prosecution chose not to attempt to prosecute them in the second trial.

"Södertälje cannot go back to how it was before the police stepped in," a municipal politician, who preferred not to be named, told The Local earlier this summer.

"It is difficult to explain the reach of this network, people lived in two different worlds," the local politician said. "A parallel business world, alternative banking with extortionate interest rates, a unique class structure.... when the police stepped in, people plucked up the courage to be Södertälje residents first and foremost."

Ann Törnkvist

Follow Ann on Twitter here

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