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Project Simoom

Can a Saharan wind bring down Sweden's incongruent right wing government?


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DUCKPOND (Rixstep) — Something big happened in Sweden this week, bigger even than the hysteria whipped up by Thomas Mattsson and his obedient orcs at Expressen. The Swedish cabinet - coached by the redoubtable Karl Rove - were found breaking their own laws on human rights and exports.

And then to make matters worse, they were caught out denying it all. Repeatedly.

Background

Project Simoom is a joint venture between the Ministry of Defence (through subsidiary 'FOI') and Saudi Arabia. The goal is to build weapons factories in Saudi Arabia. The units will be used for the modification and renovation of robots and anti-tank weapons, as well as for the manufacture of explosives and rocket fuel. All told 35 buildings are to be constructed and equipped. Numerous Swedish agencies and private corporations are involved: Ericsson, SAAB, defence weapons manufacturer FMV, and others.

Project Simoom has been ongoing for several years through three successive parliamentary mandate periods, but was secret until radio programme Today's Echo exposed it on 6 March 2012. The project is criticised foremost because it violates Swedish regulations forbidding export of weapons to regimes known to disregard human rights. The way the affair has been handled by the current conservative government of Fredrik Reinfeldt has been roundly criticised for the level of hypocrisy and disregard for regulations, for sneaky financial arrangements with corporate fronts, for politicians blaming civil servants even though it's now known the politicians were deeply involved all along, for the cabinet denying things no one ever claimed, and for being caught telling outright lies to the people.



But it was social democrat PM Göran Persson who laid the foundation for Project Simoom back on 21 April 2005 when his cabinet decided to sign a memorandum of understanding that FOI would teach the Saudis how to manufacture and develop weapons technologies in exchange for the Saudis agreeing to acquire the Swedish radar surveillance system Erieye from SAAB and Ericsson. The contract was ratified on 15 November 2005.

'The objective with this memorandum of understanding is to identify and expand the main areas of military cooperation between the signatories with regard to military systems and defence matériel, logistics, training, transfers of technology, research and development, as well as mutual exchange of experience in the fields maintenance and military medical care.'

Social democrat Minister for Defence Leni Björklund was reported to the parliamentary constitutional committee in 2005 for having been party to the agreement. She was also party to a similar agreement with Pakistan. She emerged mostly unscathed from her questioning. The treaty was also a topic of discussion during the 'Lex Orwell' debate of 2008, inasmuch as military cooperation in this context implied electronic warfare and signals surveillance.

The agreement was initially valid for five years, but was renewed automatically in 2010 as neither party terminated the agreement by 15 May of that year. According to current Liberal Party leader Jan Björklund, there was a preliminary discussion within the cabinet whether the treaty should be renewed. Björklund claims the Liberal Party and the christian democrats were against renewal but the Centre Party and the ruling conservative party were for it. The cabinet did not involve the parliament in the matter.

Corporate Fronts

Project Simoom didn't get underway until 2007. Both the conservative government of Fredrik Reinfeldt and the Ministry for Defence were part of the project startup. Simoom was to be led by FOI as the Saudis had demanded. The Swedish cabinet were opposed to this however as it would require their permission and as the project was so 'sensitive' in nature. The cabinet wanted to postpone the construction of missile factories but they received a letter in early spring 2008 from Saudi Minister for Defence Prince Khaled that work had stopped. A meeting took place at the Ministry of Defence where it was said 'industry and Ericsson amongst others feel threatened - this could get very serious'.

To avert the crisis and still keep the project secret, a corporate front was created by FOI with FOI onboard officially only as consultants, so permission from the Swedish Agency for Non-Proliferation and Export Controls was not needed. The FOI corporate front was registered as SSTI - Swedish Security Technology and Innovation - in early 2009. SSTI is still referred to in correspondence between Sweden and the Saudis as 'a FOI company' and is run by FOI staff. SSTI appears to be independent of FOI and privately owned, but the startup was financed by government funds.

SSTI received permission from ISP in July 2009 to engage in commerce with war matériel as well as equipment used in the manufacture of war matériel, including ammunition and components for explosives, robots, rockets, torpedoes, and bombs. The cabinet also gave FOI the go-ahead to continue negotiating with the Saudis at the same time.

But the SSTI project was unsuccessful, and the idea of using a corporate front to build the Saudi weapons factories was abandoned in May 2010 by FOI and the Reinfeldt cabinet.

The parliamentary export council knew about the project, amongst other things through a memo presented on 5 May 2010 that stated the company Grontmij together with FOI were to lead the project. There is no indication the defence committee or the parliament had further knowledge.

Denials

When the matter came to national attention on 6 March 2012, FOI denied the project ever existed. Yet documents held by Today's Echo show clearly the plan is still to complete the weapons factories, and the treaty with the Saudis is still in effect.

Minister for Defence Sten Tolgfors has been reported to the constitutional committee. MP Gustav Fridolin of the Green Party asked the committee to investigate whether the treaty is in accordance with Swedish principles of democracy and human rights commitments.

Who Denied and Who Knew

This isn't the first scandal with secret dealings with repressive regimes. Muammar Gaddafi financed a $3 million educational centre in the southwest of Sweden where 100 of his finest pilots were trained. That too was an illicit 'exchange of experience'.

According to The Local, at least the following cabinet members were present at the discussion of Project Simoom on 20 November which led to continued ratification of the project. Fredrik Reinfeldt presided and approved the decision.

  • Fredrik Reinfeldt, Prime Minister
  • Sten Tolgfors, Minister for Defence
  • Mats Odell, Minister for Housing and Finance
  • Maria Larsson, Minister for Children and pensioners
  • Lars Leijonborg, Minister for University Studies and Research
  • Andreas Carlgren, Minister for the Environment
  • Göran Hägglund, Minister for Social Affairs
  • Gunilla Carlsson, Minister for Development
  • Anders Borg, Minister for Finance
  • Cecilia Malmström, Minister for the European Union
  • Nyamko Sabuni, Minister for Education and Equality
  • Tobias Billström, Minister for Labour
  • Ewa Björling, Minister for Commerce
  • Administrative officer for Tolgfors

The Decision

Today's Echo quotes the decision taken at the 20 November 2008 meeting.

'FOI are authorised to negotiate a project deal, as part of their research deal with the Saudi authority concerned, of their participation as consultants in order for Saudi Arabia to independently be able to create the secure use of explosives in the country, using Swedish knowledge and Swedish models, as well as renovating and modifying existing anti-tank weapons.'

Will Heads Roll?

Will the government of Reinfeldt be forced to resign? Public outrage is at fever pitch right now. Swedes don't like being lied to by their politicians. Swedish politicians lie all the time. But it's not often they're caught out like in this affair, where Tolgfors and Reinfeldt himself have repeatedly denied everything, only to be found lying in the end.

But the social democrats are also culprits. The social democrats began negotiations with the Saudis in 2005. The social democrats were also the ones who cooperated with the CIA to render two innocent Egyptians to Mubarak and to torture.

As Julian Assange reflected a few years back, it's not about left versus right anymore - it's about the individual versus the organisation. People are now aware they cannot trust their governments and their duly elected representatives.

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