Sweden’s public prosecutor opened a criminal probe into allegations that Swedes working for a consortium of oil companies during the Sudanese civil war may have been complicit in human rights abuses.
The investigation follows a report published earlier this month by a group of agencies which accused the consortium — led by Swedish exploration firm Lundin Oil — of possible complicity in atrocities committed in Sudan between 1997 and 2003.
It has prompted two opposition parties to urge Carl Bildt, currently Sweden’s Foreign Minister, to clarify his role on the board of Lundin Oil during that period, with one questioning his ability to represent Sweden while under investigation.
“The purpose of the inquiry is to investigate whether there are individuals with ties to Sweden who are suspected of involvement in crime,” prosecutor Magnus Evling said in a statement. He noted that such a probe could take a long time.
Lundin Oil sold part of its assets, including its management and technical team, to Canada’s Talisman Energy in 2001 in a partial takeover while the rest of the company continued to operate under the new name Lundin Petroleum.
Bildt, who left Lundin Petroleum in 2006 when he became foreign minister, declined to comment on the investigation, though he said the terms of the probe were vague and noted that no person or company was specifically named in the statement.
Speaking to reporters after meeting Germany’s foreign minister, he said it was important for politicians not “to comment on, use or politicise” the actions of law enforcement agencies. He brushed off the opposition demand he step down and noted that Sweden was in an election year.
The probe follows up on allegations made by the European Coalition on Oil in Sudan (ECOS) pressure group in a June 8 report, Evling’s statement said.
The consortium — made up of Lundin Oil, Malaysian firm Petronas, Austrian energy group OMV and a Sudanese state-owned firm — signed a deal in 1997 with Sudan’s government to exploit oil in disputed areas, ECOS wrote.
The start of exploration set off fighting as the government sought to take control of oil fields in the area, leading to thousands of deaths and the forced displacement of local populations, ECOS wrote in its report.
Ian Lundin, chairman of Lundin Petroleum, dismissed the allegations in an open letter, writing that Lundin Petroleum “has, at all times, been concerned with the interests and respected the rights of the people of Sudan”.