New corruption fears in foreign ministry probe

The saga of alleged mismanagement of foreign aid money at Sweden's foreign ministry took a new twist on Wednesday, as the release of previously classified documents revealed the system was vulnerable to corruption.

New corruption fears in foreign ministry probe
The Swedish Foreign Ministry (Utrikesdepartmentet). File photo: V Smoothe/Flikr

"A person with intent just needs a bit of risk," the report into the foreign ministry's 12 billion kronor ($1.8 billion) foreign aid budget stated about the risk of malfeasance.

While Swedish media reported last month about the overarching investigation into how public servants handled grants for support – including the revelation that interns had been left to manage certain projects – the latest twist in the saga focused on whether the system was vulnerable to corruption.

A key weakness was the system permitting the same person to approve, process, and follow up on the same invoice – "which means in principle that a person can have unlimited access to the state's checking account," the government rapporteur wrote.

The new insights come following the release of previously classified documents to the  TT news agency, which on Wednesday reported that while it had been given access to some parts of the governments rapporteur's feedback, much of information had been redacted. TT gleaned, however, that the report was critical of the accounting system in place at the foreign ministry. The report did conclude, however, that investigators who looked over 70 aid projects over two years had found no actual evidence of corruption. 

It stated that its critique was structural and  that "there are general risks within the foreign ministry that have not been fully identified and dealt with". 

The rapporteur also wrote that one public servant with budget supervisory duties had told the research team "Nothing bad can happen here," while a mid-level assistant had told one investigator "Don't be so suspicious". 

Observer Einar Häckner, how has researched account-keeping and auditing, said that the system apparently in place at the ministry meant a person with bad intentions needed just an ounce of good luck to do something untoward. 

"I think it looks really bad," the professor told the TT news agency. "Overall, I don't think anyone knows if the system has been abused."

Häckner recommended that the State Auditor (Riksrevisionen) pick up the baton and take the investigation further, as there was no guarantee that internal efforts within the ministry to pull up its bootstraps would get at the problems.

"There can be people who are interested in protecting themselves and or at least avoiding criticism of the systems that haven't worked," he said. "Riksrevisionen is autonomous."

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