Sweden’s defense minister has resigned in the wake of a controversial arms deal the Stockholm government entered into with Saudi Arabia that also included the construction of a weapons plant in Saudi.
Sten Tolgfors announced his resignation on Thursday, citing that a secret deal under which Sweden’s military would construct a weapons plant in Saudi Arabia was the “final straw.” The agreement with the Saudis has been a highly contentious subject in Sweden, and may even lead to criminal probes.
I have today, upon request from Sten Tolgfors, decided to relieve Sten Tolgfors [of his duties], Sweden’s Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said at a news conference.
The Prime Minister also praised the departing Tolgfors for shepherding the defense ministry during a period of spending cuts and consolidation.
Sten has worked hard and in a goal-oriented way and the military's budget is balanced. Sten Tolgfors deserves recognition for that, said Reinfeldt.
The Prime Minister went to great pains to explain that Tolgfors had been contemplating quitting for months and that the Saudi affair was not the sole reason for his exit.
The present infrastructure minister Catharina Elmsäter-Svärd will serve as an interim defense minister, Reinfeldt added.
Swedish radio revealed earlier in March that the Swedish Defence Research Agency’s has had secret plans to build an anti-tank weapons plant in Saudi Arabia for at least the past five years.
Swedish media have complained that the military should not be in the business of building arms and missile plants for a repressive nation like Saudi Arabia.
Although Stockholm doesn’t prohibit the sale of weapons to the Saudis, Swedish lawmakers were upset over the secret nature of the plan to build the plant in Saudi Arabia.
Tolgfors, who has served as defense minister since 2007 after a stint serving as Sweden's trade minister, himself explained at the press conference: There was no intrigue behind the resignation. I'm happy to have been a part of an armed forces for which I have the utmost esteem. But my energy has begun to wane. And the media attention of the last few weeks was the last straw.
However, Tolgfors may not be completely blameless in the Saudi imbroglio.
The Local, an English language Swedish newspaper, reported that an official from the Swedish Defence Research Agency tried to conceal documents related to the Saudi-Sweden arms contracts in order to “protect” the defense minister.
Tolgfors had denied any knowledge of the secret deal with the Saudi, although some of his underlings reportedly were quite aware of the project.
Tolgfors said about the Saudi issues: When it comes to the Saudi debate of recent weeks, I have nothing more to add…. I don't plan to comment more on this matter, but the issue will continue via these processes.”
He added: I can say however that the media attention in recent weeks has hastened and facilitated my decision.
A political scientist named Ulf Bjereld told the TT news agency: You could say that Tolgfors became too heavy a burden for the … government as this [Saudi] business continued to develop. I think it will be something of a relief, not only for Tolgfors personally, but also for the prime minister.”
It is premature to speculate over Tolgfors’ true culpability in the matter, Bjereld added.
That's something an investigation can show after the fact. There have been several questions that Tolgfors hasn't been able to answer. But it's too early to say exactly what responsibility he had, he said.