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Swedish oil executives charged with complicity in Sudan war crimes

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The main owner and former chief executive of Lundin Energy have been charged with complicity in grave war crimes in Sudan, the first prosecutions of corporate managers for such serious offences since the Nuremberg trials.

Ian Lundin, the chair and controlling family shareholder of the Swedish oil and gas producer, and Alex Schneiter, chief executive from 2015 to 2020, were indicted by prosecutors in Stockholm on Thursday for being complicit in war crimes committed by the then Sudanese regime of Omar al-Bashir.

Prosecutors are also aiming to confiscate SKr1.4bn ($160m) from Lundin, which is mostly active in oil production and exploration in Norway.

“It is important that these serious crimes are not forgotten. War crimes are one of the most serious crimes that Sweden has an international obligation to investigate and bring to justice,” said Henrik Attorps, the public prosecutor who headed the investigation that started in 2010. “A large number of civilians suffered as a result of the Sudanese regime’s crimes, which we argue the indicted were complicit in.”

Human rights groups claim the start of oil exploration in what is now South Sudan at the end of the 1990s by a consortium led by what was then Lundin Petroleum sparked a civil war that led to thousands of deaths, the forced displacement of almost 200,000 people, and numerous cases of rape and torture.

Sweden’s justice minister warned three years ago, after approving their prosecution, that the duo could face potential lifetime sentences if found guilty.

Ian Lundin and Schneiter, who both live in Switzerland, strenuously denied the allegations while the company said it was “incomprehensible” that charges had been brought as the investigation was “unfounded and fundamentally flawed”.

Lundin Energy insisted on Thursday it had operated “responsibly” in Sudan and had done “nothing wrong”.

“There is no evidence linking any representatives of Lundin to the alleged primary crimes in this case,” the company said in a statement.

Ian Lundin will now step down as chair at next year’s annual meeting.

Swedish prosecutors argued that by asking the Sudanese government to take responsibility for security in the area around its oil operations in 1999, Lundin knew that the military would need to break a local peace agreement and take control of a region by force. They further allege that the two men must have understood or were indifferent to the fact that the war would be conducted in a manner forbidden under international humanitarian law.

“It is hard to underestimate the international significance of the Lundin trial,” said Egbert Wesselink, a senior adviser at Pax for Peace, a Dutch NGO.

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He added: “It is extremely difficult to bring charges under international jurisdiction and the Swedish Prosecution Authority has shown an admirable steadfastness. The investigation is an exemplary and rare effort to make a business enterprise account for its role in human rights abuses.”

Lundin has abandoned or spun off most of its international activities to focus on Norway in recent years, where it discovered the largest oilfield in the North Sea in decades, Johan Sverdrup. It sold out of Sudan in 2003, and prosecutors are claiming back the proceeds from that sale.

Swedish prosecutors have universal jurisdiction for certain international crimes and have used it to bring cases, among others, for crimes committed in Iran and Rwanda.

But the Lundin case is the highest profile as it concerns one of Sweden’s leading business families, who control several oil, mining and natural resource companies.

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