STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Sweden’s public prosecutor opened a criminal investigation on Monday 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 posted on the court’s web site.
Bildt, who left Lundin Oil in 2006 when he became foreign minister, was not immediately available to comment on the probe.
The probe will follow up on allegations made by the European Coalition on Oil in Sudan (ECOS) in its June 8 report exploring the consortium’s activities titled “Unpaid Debt,” it 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 a vicious war 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.
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.
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.”
Reporting by Nicholas Vinocur; Editing by Giles Elgood