Wed, Oct 18, 2006 - Page 6 News List

New Swedish government struggles with corruption

AP , STOCKHOLM

Former Swedish culture minister Cecilia Stego Chilo, left, announced on Monday that she was resigning from her post with the new center-right government after allegations surfaced that she had not paid TV license fees and had paid a nanny under the table to avoid taxes. Maria Borelius, right, the former minister for foreign trade, resigned on Saturday amid mounting allegations of tax evasion.

PHOTO: AFP AND AP

Sweden's new center-right government got off to a rocky start as two ministers resigned within 10 days of taking office after revelations surfaced about secrets from their past.

The ministers resigned after allegations surfaced that they failed to pay for TV licenses and illegally hired nannies, forcing Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt to learn the bitter lesson that there is nothing tax-burdened Swedes despise more than when the privileged cheat the system.

"If Reinfeldt is lucky, it will stop at this," said Ulf Bjereld, a political science professor at Goteborg University. "But eyes will now be drawn to others close to him who also haven't paid the TV license."

Culture Minister Cecilia Stego Chilo, 47, resigned on Monday, a week after Swedish media reported she had skipped paying her TV license fee for 16 years and evaded taxes by paying a nanny under the table.

"Since it will not be possible to clear up the situation within a reasonable time, I no longer see any possibility to ... repair the damage I have caused the government," said Stego Chilo, the former head of the Timbro conservative think tank.

Every household with a TV set is required to pay the annual fee of about 1,500 kronor (US$200), which is the main source of funding for Sweden's public radio and television. Many believe Stego Chilo refused to pay the fee on ideological grounds.

"As culture minister she is politically responsible for public service," said Lena Mellin, a political columnist who writes for the tabloid Aftonbladet.

"That she for 16 years didn't think it was necessary to pay is hard to understand," she said.

Stego Chilo's resignation came just two days after Trade Minister Maria Borelius dropped out of the Cabinet on similar allegations, causing embarrassment for Reinfeldt's four-party coalition, which took power on Oct. 6 and ended 12 years of Social Democratic rule.

Borelius acknowledged that she also had hired a nanny in the 1990s without reporting it to tax authorities or paying the required employment fees.

She made matters worse by saying that she could not afford to hire a nanny legally, when tax records showed she and her husband had a combined income several times that of an average Swedish family.

In addition, tabloids reported that her 6.8 million kronor summer home was owned by a corporation on the island of Jersey, allowing her family to avoid Swedish property taxes.

"I wonder if she has any idea of what life is like in Sweden for a single mother," said Helen Doktare, a Green Party politician in the northern city of Lulea. "Most of us can't even afford to pay [a nanny] under the table."

Experts said it was the first time a Swedish administration had been hit by two resignations so soon after taking office.

Reinfeldt's government was not expected to fall, but its image has been severely tarnished.

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