Wedding gift triggers bribery claims against Swedish princess

Wed, Aug 11, 2010, 01:00

A SWEDISH billionaire’s controversial wedding present to Crown Princess Victoria – the use of his private jet, yacht and luxury US ranch for her recent honeymoon in the South Pacific and North America – is pitting royalists against republicans in Sweden, amid allegations of corruption linked to the gift.

Three separate complaints have been filed with the country’s anti- corruption unit against the heir to the Swedish crown. She is accused of accepting bribes, having attended events hosted by her benefactor’s companies and charities, and being linked to his charitable foundations in an official capacity.

Now prosecutors are to investigate whether the wedding gift contravenes Sweden’s bribery laws.

Royalty and dignitaries from around the world attended the wedding between Crown Princess Victoria (33) and her former personal trainer, Daniel Westling, in Stockholm on June 19th.

The newlyweds, tracked to a remote corner of French Polynesia by Swedish tabloid newspaper Expressen, had reached their secret honeymoon heaven thanks to the generosity of one of Sweden’s richest men, Bertil Hult (69), founder of the language course empire EF (Education First) a multinational with 22,000 employees in more than 50 countries.

The flamboyant entrepreneur is close to the Swedish royal family. In common with King Carl Gustaf and Crown Princess Victoria, Mr Hult has dyslexia and has worked most closely with the princess on charitable foundations associated with dyslexia research. Members of the royal family usually attend his legendary birthday bashes, where the likes of Elton John entertain them.

After it emerged that the newlyweds were using Mr Hult’s private jet and later his yacht for their South pacific cruise, then lodging at his Colorado mansion – gifts according to Swedish media that run into several million kroner (hundreds of thousands of euro) pro- and anti-monarchists took opposing positions on the issue.

An influential columnist with the respected Dagens Nyheter newspaper, Peter Wolodarski, called it a unacceptable conflict of interest. “It is strange that Sweden’s heir to the throne would allow a Swedish billionaire to provide transport and housing during her honeymoon when the same person through his [business] can potentially be interested in having the favours repaid,” he wrote.

Insisting that the princess had done nothing wrong, the Swedish royal court called it “a private trip and a wedding gift from an old friend of the royal family”.

Prof Claes Sandgren of Stockholm University sees no corruption, but a possible conflict of interest. Asked whether the decision to accept the gift was wise he was quoted as saying, “That depends on the relationship between Hult and the crown princess.”