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Lexbase official quits as controversy rages

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Lexbase official quits as controversy rages
Lexbase's former legal spokesperson Patrik Ljunggren. Files: TT
14:26 CET+01:00
Lexbase, a site allowing Swedes to look up neighbour's criminal records, was embroiled in further controversy on Tuesday as its owner was revealed to have criminal connections and its spokesperson quit after reportedly receiving death threats.

Lexbase legal spokesman and five-percent stakeholder Pontus Ljunggren had been the public face of the yellow pages of Swedish criminal records since its launch on Monday. But on Tuesday afternoon, he announced he would no longer represent the company, which has raised concerns among privacy advocates and lawyers groups.

"Pontus Ljunggren has resigned as he and his family have received death threats," the company said in a statement on Tuesday.

The resignation was the second blow against the site within a day of its controversial launch. An investigation by the Dagens Nyheter (DN) newspaper revealed that director and editor Jonas Häger, who owns 95 percent of Lexbase, hadn't paid taxes since 2007, with legal sidekick Ljunggren explaining lack of paid taxes was due to Häger having "been out sailing". 

DN's investigation also revealed, however, that Häger has been involved in multiple business partnerships with persons who had criminal convictions. The list included a web production company where a partner of Häger's shot another man in the stomach at a party. Ljunggren defended the liaison by arguing that the crimes had nothing to do with the company and were of a private nature unrelated to Häger.

Even before the site was launched on Monday, observers noted it might facilitate the exploitation of loopholes in Swedish  privacy laws and use the country's right to information law in unintended ways. The new service allows people in Sweden to look up anyone's criminal record, and to get an overview of their neighbourhood with red dots signaling the presence of convicted criminals on a map.

Before giving up his spokesperson role at Lexbase, Ljunggren managed to draw flack from legal colleagues in Sweden. The Swedish Bar Association (Advokatsamfundet) stated on its website that it had written to Ljunggren about its concerns over Lexbase. 

In addition, it was revealed that several addresses highlighted on the site don't currently have a convicted criminal living there, leaving current, innocent residents fuming that they had been tagged as criminals by Lexbase.

Earlier on Monday, the head of Sweden's Data Protection Board (Datainspektionen) used an op-ed in DN to voice her concern that Sweden's constitution needs to be updated to help resolve the "undeniable paradox that anyone who has a website and a publishing licence can freely handle information in a way that police are prohibited from doing".

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