Countries praised by the European Commission for experiencing little or no corruption at home are failing to stop their own companies paying bribes overseas, raising concerns that the squeaky-clean reputations enjoyed by much of Scandinavia and northern Europe may be tarnished by a different standard of conduct abroad. In launching the EU’s corruption report, the Commissioner Cecilia Malmström, said Sweden “is undoubtedly one of the countries with the least problems with corruption, and other EU countries should learn from Sweden’s solutions.”
Yet while less than 1% of Swedes – who enjoy a top-10 ranking according to GDP per capita – may have encountered bribery at home, those living in other countries have found Swedish companies more than willing to bribe their way to power and fortune.
In 2012, Sweden was rocked by an investigation that revealed that the telecommunications giant TeliaSonera had funneled over $350 million to a company it allegedly knew to be a front for the daughter of the president of Uzbekistan. After a Swedish court first ruled that it had no jurisdiction over the bribery charge, successful prosecution followed and the company dismissed its Chief Financial Officer and other senior employees.
Before the TeliaSonera scandal broke, the OECD had criticized Sweden for not prosecuting a single foreign bribery allegation in more than eight years despite “several allegations reported by the media.”In the OECD’s opinion, the lack of prosecution “signals that something is not working in Sweden’s framework for detecting, investigation and prosecuting foreign bribery.”
“I think foreign bribery remains a fairly big problem,” Elisabeth Eklund, an anti-corruption specialist and Partner at Stockholm-based firm Delphi, told ICIJ. “The police and the prosecution haven’t been very interested in digging into these issues.”