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The Swedish prosecutor who challenged Lundin Oil

It was prosecutor Magnus Elving who opened the probe into Swedish oil company Lundin, accused of complicity in war crimes in southern Sudan. He is now retired and following from a distance the trial that opened in Stockholm on September 5 against two former directors of the multinational. He shares some of his memories with Justice Info about this case, to which he devoted eight years.

Magnus Elving is the Swedish prosecutor who prosecuted the Lundin multinational for complicity in war crimes in South Sudan.
Former prosecutor Magnus Elving (pictured here in 2013 during a broadcast on Swedish national radio) is following the trial of Lundin Oil executives, whom he investigated for eight years, from a distance and with interest. © Sveriges Radio
4 min 25Approximate reading time

There are many absentees in this exceptional trial of two Swedish oil company directors accused of complicity in war crimes in southern Sudan between 1997 and 2003. They include the thousands of Sudanese killed or displaced, whose voices will be represented in their absence by some of the 34 civil parties. Another, more singular absentee is Swedish. Magnus Elving, 71, is the prosecutor that made it all happen and who, at the last minute, was prevented from seeing this historic trial through to the end.

In early 2010, when Sweden already had universal jurisdiction to try the most serious crimes, Elving was working on an investigation in Rwanda (which led to the first trial in Sweden for genocide, in which the accused was sentenced to life imprisonment) when a lawyer sent him a book by Swedish journalist Kerstin Lundell. In "Business in Blood and Oil - Lundin Petroleum in Africa" (Editions Ordfront, 2010), Lundell recounts her investigation into Lundin's business dealings in Sudan. The jurist wanted to bring a complaint against Lundin.

"I understood that these were crimes in an area where a Swedish company was working and that this complaint could be of interest," Elving explained in an interview with Justice Info. But the book was not enough. Two months later, a second complaint arrived from the NGO European Coalition on Oil in Sudan. The prosecutor checked the sources of the book and the NGO's report and decided, in June 2010, to open a preliminary investigation.

An important first step was when he went to New York to follow the trial of the Canadian oil company Talisman for complicity in genocide in Sudan. He brought back thousands of documents and, starting from there, published a press release in 2012 asking three questions:

1. Is it possible to prove that the alleged crimes committed by the military and government-affiliated militias against the civilian population of Block 5A (the region of Sudan where Lundin worked between 1997 and 2003) took place during the period in question?

2. If so, were any persons with links to Sweden aware of these crimes?

3. Did these persons, in one way or another, promote the offences through "advice or actions", i.e. did they, through concrete actions, decisions, psychological influence or otherwise, support the perpetrators in their decision to commit criminal acts?

The complaint and retirement

The next three years saw the first major turning point in the case. "During this period from 2012 to 2015, as we found more and more documents, we were able to build up an increasingly accurate picture of what had happened in Block 5A by cross-referencing the various reports from NGOs, institutions, the Talisman trial in New York, the security companies operating there and Lundin Oil," Elving told Justice Info. Elving and his small team of prosecutors and investigators set off to interview witnesses all over the world, including in the United States, Kenya, Canada, South Sudan, Sweden and Switzerland. The further the investigation progressed, the more it focused on the executives who now sit in the dock: Ian Lundin and Alexandre Schneiter. In 2016, they were officially put under investigation. The second breakthrough came with the search of Lundin's premises in Geneva in January 2018. "We found many documents and internal and external e-mails that reinforced the suspicions against Ian Lundin and Alexandre Schneiter," says Elving. "I was the one handling these thousands of documents, and I had to constantly assess whether we should go ahead with the case or close it. I must have read 50,000 pages.”

However, he was about to lose his "baby". At the end of 2017, Elving was on sick leave after an operation for prostate cancer when Lundin's lawyers filed a complaint against him over a disclosure issue, he recounts. Elving was cleared of the charges in February 2018, but he was approaching retirement age and his superiors eventually chose to entrust the case to Henrik Attorps, the prosecutor who had taken charge of the investigation during Elving's sick leave. "The reason given was that a 'long-term solution' was needed. I was angry and disappointed, because I wanted to finish what I had started."

Attorps will conduct the trial.

The origin of a commitment

Elving's awareness of international crimes was raised one day in 2001 when his superior sent him to attend a conference on war crimes organised by the Swedish Office of Migration. "I thought: what am I going to do there? We live in peace, there's no war in Sweden.” One of the participants said that, among all the asylum seekers, there were victims but also perpetrators of crimes, especially after regime changes in certain countries of origin. "And I thought that we should be able to investigate this kind of crime. Sweden had ratified a number of conventions that allowed us to investigate, but we weren't doing it because we didn't have the organisation to do so. Back in Stockholm, I spoke to my boss about it and I was able to start an informal group.”

Fate intervened a few years later. Elving was sent to work in Germany in 2006, during the football World Cup, with a group of Swedish police officers. During the first match in Dortmund, he received a visit from Bengt Svensson, number two in the Swedish police force, an old acquaintance of his. "One evening, we were in a bar and I told him about this, that we had signed a lot of conventions but that no one could investigate. ‘Really?’ he said, ‘I hadn't thought of that.’ And then it struck him that maybe it was his responsibility after all. I agreed. And that's how it started. A few months later, the unit was set up within the criminal police. And now they're swamped with work, with investigations into Rwanda, Syria, Azerbaijan and Putin. And I'm rather proud of that.”

Since then, Elving has written a book of his memories, from his early days as an errand boy at the Norrköping police station to this historic trial. But publication of his book has been postponed until the day after the verdict is delivered, i.e. not until February 2026, "so as not to interfere with the course of justice".

Today, the former prosecutor lives more than 150 km south of Stockholm, and is following the trial from a distance thanks to his contacts in the judicial world and media reports. He may go there one of these days, but he hasn't decided when. He has time. “In the trial that began on September 5, 2023, we don't know which way it will go, and it will be the answers to those three questions that decide the trial’s outcome,” he says. These are the three questions he posed in his 2012 press release.

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