4/01/2012

Swedish defence minister quits amid Saudi arms scandal: PM

AFP/GULFNEWS

Swedish Defence Minister Sten Tolgfors has quit, the prime minister said Thursday, following weeks of controversy over revelations Sweden planned to help Saudi Arabia build an arms factory
 
Stockholm: Swedish Defence Minister Sten Tolgfors has quit, the prime minister said Thursday, following weeks of controversy over revelations Sweden planned to help Saudi Arabia build an arms factory.
"I have today, upon request from Sten Tolgfors, decided to relieve Sten Tolgfors (of his duties)," Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt told a news conference.
Earlier this month public broadcaster Swedish Radio said the Swedish Defence Research Agency (FOI) had secret plans since 2007 to help Saudi Arabia build a plant for the production of anti-tank weapons.

'Project Simoom'
 
Part of the so-called Project Simoom involved, according to Swedish Radio, FOI's alleged creation of a shell company called SSTI to handle dealings with Saudi Arabia, in order to avoid any direct links to FOI and the government.
FOI director general Jan-Olof Lind said last week he had reported "a suspected crime" following an internal review, and Swedish prosecutor Agneta Hilding Qvarnstroem opened a preliminary investigation into the affair.
Sweden has in the past sold weapons to Saudi Arabia, but classified government documents state that Project Simoom "pushes the boundaries of what is possible for a Swedish authority," the radio said when it broke the story on March 6.
The story has dominated Swedish headlines since then, with numerous politicians and public figures critical of Sweden's plans to provide weapons help to a country they describe as a "dictatorship," and calls for Tolgfors to resign.
Under pressure to come clean, Tolgfors admitted on March 9 he knew of FOI's plans to help Riyadh build the factory and of the shell company.
"When it comes to the past weeks' debate on Saudi Arabia, I have nothing more to add," Tolgfors told Thursday's news conference, adding that he had already planned to resign but that "media attention in recent weeks has facilitated and accelerated my decision".
Reinfeldt said Infrastructure Minister Catharina Elmsaeter-Svaerd would temporarily take over the defence portfolio.