Lundin no longer investigated for obstruction of justice

Prosecutor Thomas Ahlstrand has closed the criminal investigation into alleged bribery, harassment and threats to court witnesses by Ian Lundin, Alex Schneiter and representatives of Lundin Energy.[1] He affirmed that there had been powerful effort to unduly influence witnesses in their interest, but that it cannot be ruled out that others wanted to make them change their testimonies. Ian Lundin and Alex Schneiter deny any wrongdoing. The closure of the investigation last April followed the 2nd of February decision by the Stockholm District Court to dismiss the lawyers of the plaintiffs in the obstruction of justice case.

The decision is a reminder ot the vulnerable situation of court witnesses and of Sweden’s duty to safeguard the integrity of the Lundin trial and provide for their security.

The obstruction of justice case

The Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter is the main source of information about alleged witness tampering by Lundin. In August 2018, it reported that witnesses in the Lundin war crimes case had been offered money and schooling for their children in exchange for withdrawing their testimony. Witnesses were said to have been abused and threatened, and allegedly there were direct links between cases of murders and the war crimes investigation. Some witnesses had been contacted and threatened by people who worked for Lundin. The newspaper reported that witnesses received hidden threats such as “think about your future”, “think about your family”. Not all the victims were court witnesses. Family members and people otherwise connected to the war crimes would also have fallen victim. Consequently, several people fled their home countries and lived in constant fear. Shortly after Dagens Nyheter’s report, prosecutor Thomas Ahlstrand opened a separate criminal investigation into obstruction of justice by Ian Lundin and Alex Schneiter. Obstruction of justice is a serious offence that carries a maximum prison sentence of 4 years.

In 2019, it was reported that the UN refugee agency UNHCR considered the situation sufficiently grave to resort to emergency procedures. Since, several witnesses have been granted asylum in safe countries.

According to prosecutor Thomas Ahlstrand, there is ample evidence that witnesses have been threatened and harassed in Lundin’s interest. “It is evident that there are forces that want to influence people to change or minimize information about violations of international law in Sudan and thus also Lundin’s role. This is a powerful effort to unduly reduce the chances of a conviction.”

According to Dagens Nyheter, Lundin used to employ agents in South Sudan and Sudan who actively tried to influence witnesses. One witness stated that he was paid by Lundin after he ‘switched sides’. Several witnesses were reportedly assaulted by armed unknown men and beaten. One of them described how he was taken to a house run by Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Service, where he was interrogated and beaten to make him testify favorably for the suspects. Apart from agents of Lundin, Sudanese or South Sudanese lawyers with known links to security agencies were reported to have tried to influence witnesses. Sudanese and South Sudanese state security agencies have fearsome reputations.

A police search of Lundin’s headquarters in Switzerland and a private residence found evidence that the company had considered paying witnesses. However, the company did not allow the prosecution access to its financial records, citing defence confidentiality. Without access to these records, the prosecutor said that he could not show that Lundin decided, or implicitly intended to commit the crimes. Because others besides the suspects and their company can also have an interest in silencing the witnesses, he felt obliged to close the case.

What now?

The prosecutor has evidence that crimes were committed in the interest of Lundin company and that Lundin had direct links with people who committed them. He cannot prove who instigated the crimes, but somebody did.

The criminal investigation may have been a deterrent and prevented worse. If so, the closure of the investigation may imperil witnesses as the instigators know that their actions are no longer scrutinized. Victims who are not court witness themselves have now lost their Swedish legal counsels and have thereby dropped off the radar, which could make them vulnerable again. Until 2026, when the Lundin trial will be closed, South Sudanese witnesses are likely to feel exposed and unprotected.

[1] Lundin Energy was recently renamed Orrön Energy. For practical reasons, we will continue to refer to the company as Lundin.

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