Saudi arms deal
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The government's ruling (left) and Jacob and Marcus Wallenberg (right). Photo: TT.
Sveriges före detta försvarsminister, Sten Tolgfors (t.v) och Marcus Wallenberg (t.h.). Foto: TT
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Sweden's former minister of defence, Sten Tolgfors (left) and Marcus Wallenberg (right). Photo: TT.

Sweden proceeded with Saudi deal after pressure from businessman

The Moderate Party wanted to halt construction of an arms factory in Saudi Arabia but folded under pressure from business mogul Marcus Wallenberg, a new book about Sweden’s Saudi weapons affair suggests.

In 2012, Swedish Radio News revealed that Sweden had helped the Saudis construct an advanced arms factory in the desert. Then minister of defence, Sten Tolgfors, ended up resigning and was later also criticised by Sweden’s Parliamentary Committee on the Constitution.

Now, classified documents show that the government in the spring of 2008 actually cancelled its collaboration with the Saudis after several high-ranking individuals within the Swedish Agency for Non-Proliferation and Export Controls established that the construction of the arms factory went against Swedish laws.

However, after pressure from the business magnate Marcus Wallenberg, the government did an about-face and continued its collaboration with the Saudi regime.

There have been four major inquiries into the Saudi affair, but only now has information about Wallenberg’s involvement emerged. A classified letter addressed to Tolgfors and stored at the Ministry for Defence reveals Wallenberg’s role in the affair.

Wallenberg wrote the letter soon after Sweden had terminated the arms factory project. He had just returned from Saudi Arabia, where he met with the country’s vice minister of defence, Prince Khaled.

In the letter, Wallenberg said the Saudis were offended by the Swedes’ actions and that their irritation could negatively affect Swedish business interests. Wallenberg was and remains chairman of the board for weapons manufacturer Saab. He mentioned that the company’s planned sale of the military radar system Erieye could be affected.

Later, the government took up the arms factory project again, with the Ministry for Foreign Affairs particularly pushing for it. Several sources said, independently of one another, that Frank Belfrage, cabinet secretary and Carl Bildt’s closest man, was particularly involved in pushing for the arms factory project to go ahead.

Reporters from Swedish Radio News tried for months to contact Belfrage before reaching him on his mobile phone. He told them: “I am in a meeting. You have to turn to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs press office.”

The Ministry for Foreign Affairs said Belfrage does not want to answer any questions. The reporters also tried to reach former minister of defence, Sten Tolgfors. 

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