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A nice house. For two. Criminals.
This is a nice house. For two. In Sweden of all places where everyone is equal but where of late it's become evident some are more equal than others.
This house is not the property of a Swedish financial tycoon. The founder of IKEA doesn't own this house. The CEO of Volvo doesn't own it. Nor the head of SAAB, nor the king, nor anyone else like that.
This house belongs to two politicians, two people who all their lives have worked in politics and never set foot outside. Granted, Swedes do not starve their politicians, but even the salaries for US politicians are astronomical in comparison. So without the means - how did they do it? And who are these people?
They're the first family of Sweden: prime minister Göran Persson and his wife Anitra Steen. They did it by being themselves and doing it consistently for the past fifteen years.
But today that's all changed, at least for a small part, and no one even dares hope more will come of it. But today the police began an official investigation into the circumstances surrounding this house (still under construction as can be seen in the photograph).
The crime? Violation of laws pertaining to worker safety.
The case has been lying on the prosecutor's desk for over a month, nothing being done. This to give Persson time to try to cover his tracks.
The house, a huge construction (with taxpayer money say some) on Båven lake in Södermanland, was inspected by the department of worker safety. The department found several violations. The building site had no safety plan, and the prime minister didn't notify the department of the project - which he, as everyone, is bound to do by law.
Because Persson violated two Swedish laws, the department was obliged to notify the prosecutor (who then dutifully let the matter lie for over a month). Presumably the prosecutor was too busy hunting down aliens from outer space.
Things get dicey at this point, for the construction company isn't just any old construction company: no, it's a company owned and run by the brother of the prime minister himself. So both the prime minister, his brother, and his wife can be fined if the case goes against them.
Persson was asked last month about the matter when it first surfaced in the news, and calmly told the press that it was all just a 'common oversight'. 'I didn't have the competence to understand that something like a notification and a safety plan should be necessary', he told them.
And then a representative for the department of worker safety made a slip by stating that it is the department's duty, no matter who the suspect is, to report the matter to the prosecutor - as if the people of Sweden have already accepted the fact that indeed, some people are today more equal than others.
Political scientist Stig-Björn Ljunggren says the case reminds him of Al Capone's. 'It's not just any house - it's an estate, a huge estate. The political opponents of the prime minister won't even have to broach the subject - everyone will be thinking about it anyway.'
And considering elections are right around the corner, it may be best if that's true.
Conservative party secretary Sven Otto Littorin says it's the first time a Swedish prime minister was ever prosecuted for a crime - and the crime being against laws for worker safety only makes matters worse. And he doesn't swallow Persson's light-handed dismissal.
'If he buys an estate for twelve million and then sets about with luxury class renovations for millions more, he's expected to make sure he's following the law. It's incomprehensible but it also illustrates how untouchable Persson thinks he is.'
'It must be embarrassing for the prime minister to be accused of breaking laws he himself was instrumental in passing', says center party secretary Jöran Hägglund. 'And it shows what a jungle of laws there are that businesses must follow when even the prime minister can't keep track of it all.'
Anitra Steen was unavailable for comment according to her press secretary at the Swedish state spirits monopoly Systembolaget. Of late she's been busy laying off thousands of employees and then holding million dollar parties for her friends in the company at the taxpayers' expense - all the while her company is still under investigation for widespread graft.
Comments on the above story were not merciful.
- They say the stripes never completely wash out but one can hope it's now become too much. Once a member of his party doesn't mean always a member.
- It's important that all politicians live according to the laws they themselves have passed. Anything else is tantamount to saying that laws are only for common people and not for the ruling class. And that wouldn't be democracy.
- As per usual members of the ruling class have a short memory. If we ordinary citizens should happen to 'forget' the same thing Big Brother will hunt us down to make sure we're not cheating. But the pompous few on top have a short memory!
- Go get 'em! Fry the fatso - and his trashy wife!
- Donate more money to the politicians!
- When will Persson step down? Soon I hope. I am not a member of his party, but still I want a prime minister I can admire and respect and not be ashamed of.
- He said he wasn't 'competent enough' to follow the law? Is he competent to do anything? Let's hope he gets booted out of office.
- Highly unexpected that someone would dare poke their noses into the affairs of plantation owner and president Persson!
- And he'll probably get the case dismissed on the grounds that there is no evidence.
- Getting this into the media is only a show for the peanut gallery. It won't be mentioned again and people will soon forget it.
And finally one commenter was reminded how Persson double-crossed his opponents in the last election campaign.
'You haven't forgot the last election campaign where Persson got the third degree in the debates? A cozy hour about how Persson was expected to manage the CIA and a little segment about intimate dining and his private filmmaking. Nothing about how the CIA were really dealt with or how the nation's welfare would be taken care of.
'And the debate got even cozier when Baron Persson pointed out his opponent Lundgren was a landlord. What did Persson say to the other politicians before the show began? 'Hey boys and girls! Let's talk politics and nothing but - and let's not talk about personal matters! Let's play this one fair!'
'And then Persson marched into the studio and crushed Lundgren with his innuendoes about the latter's business - and what was at the bottom of those accusations? Lundgren had bought an itsy-bitsy house in Djursholm. Lundgren was shaken and never recovered; knockout already in the first round.
'And the year after Persson buys his estate for twelve million and now renovates it for millions more. And as per usual he doesn't know what the laws are. He's a piss poor actor.'
Persson and Steen got their start in 'politics' in 1994. They weren't married then - they weren't even an item then - but they worked wonderfully together. Today they're bonded by a marriage of greed.
Persson came in as finance minister with Steen at his side. He convinced the government there was a crisis on and they had to give him carte blanche to do what he wanted. This of course is very curious because anno 1994 Sweden's finances were in particularly good shape: the country had undergone a slight recession between 1989 and 1992 but things were on the upswing and moving quickly by 1994. Nonetheless Persson hoodwinked them and got what he wanted - and then he and Steen started dismantling the world-renowned Swedish social system that had taken many political parties over fifty years to build up.
- He pushed the date for retirement fund payments back from the 15th of the month where it had always been until the last of the month. Pensioners lost millions in interest.
- He made a new law that retired couples only receive full benefits if both are retired.
- This one was the clincher: he took away protection against inflation for retirement benefits. At the current rate of inflation retirement benefits will be less than a sou in a few years.
Persson and Steen found an ally early on in Olof Johansson of the rival center party. More proof that the current 'Reign of Napoleon' has nothing to do with party lines. Persson, Steen, and Johansson together took the dismantling of the Swedish social system and turned it into a work of art. Schools were deprived; the famous dental care plan was demolished; everywhere people are hurting - except those in public office.
Persson passed new legislation virtually guaranteeing any appointee to his government a million dollar 'parachute' payment - even for as little as one year's service playing table hockey with rubbers. And he saw to it that both he and his soon bride to be would get out of town with record high parachute payments of their own.
In fact Anitra's payment is so high it's officially illegal. So what happens then? Easy. It's either the government who must intervene and stop the theft, or it's the chairman of the board of Anitra's company who must do the same.
The head of the government is Anitra's husband; the head of Anitra's company is her old friend Olof Johansson.
Sweden have never had a really corrupt government before. The people don't know how to deal with it. Sweden's political leaders have been - relatively speaking - 'shining lights'. This is Sweden's first experience with systematic corruption and the poor people don't quite know yet how to react.
They'll have an opportunity in the upcoming elections but the issue is whether it's enough to vote Persson and his hoodlums out of office. Persson was smart enough to compromise people on all sides of the political manege - the way things are today, thanks to the concerted work of Persson and Steen, it might yet be years before Sweden can again hope for an honest government, a fair shake, and a return to their old social model.