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Lundin, the trial that “should never have taken place”

The Lundin trial has now reached the end of its thirteenth week, with 90 weeks still to go. Torgny Wetterberg, defending Ian Lundin, on November 29 began his presentation of the facts. His client is one of the two directors of Swedish company Lundin Petroleum on trial for complicity in war crimes in southern Sudan between 1997 and 2003.

Lundin trial in Sweden - Ian Lundin arrives in court on the opening day of the trial in Stockholm. He is suspected of complicity in war crimes in Southern Sudan.
Ian Lundin, former Chairman of Lundin Oil, arrives at the Stockholm District Court in Sweden on 5 September for the start of his trial for complicity in war crimes in Sudan. His lawyers have had the floor since 29 November and until 8 February to present his defence. © Jonathan Nackstrand / AFP
4 min 14Approximate reading time

This trial should never have taken place, the lawyer said to anyone who would listen. He argued that the prosecution's case was unfounded and full of errors, the presentation was confused, and "it may have been a deliberate strategy". "The prosecutor referred to people he had never met, and yet he gave them great importance in his presentation," the lawyer told the court. Unsurprisingly, Wetterberg methodically challenged the facts that the prosecution team had presented to the Stockholm court over a period of 24 days between September and November last year in an attempt to convict Ian Lundin, ex-chairman of the oil company of the same name, of complicity in war crimes.

"You will be surprised”

Wetterberg announced a presentation in 44 chapters, scheduled to end on 8 February 2024. Several of these will deal with reports by NGOs and the Civilian Protection Monitoring Team, whose remit was to monitor and investigate abuses committed against civilians after the Khartoum government and south Sudanese rebels signed a peace agreement in 2002. Reports such as the one by the NGO Christian Aid published in 2001 played a major role in the preparation of the indictment. "You will be surprised," warned Wetterberg.

Ian Lundin's lawyers have shared the task with those of Swiss national Alexandre Schneiter, the other executive implicated in this case who will take the stand at the end of February. "We have investigated how these various NGO reports relate to each other," said Wetterberg. The other team focused on the individual authors of these reports.

Ian Lundin and Thomas Tendorf, his second lawyer, sit with Wetterberg under the windows of one wall, to the left of the gallery where the court president and five jurors sit and facing the prosecution team. Opposite the president, in the middle of the courtroom, sits the other defendant, former Lundin Petroleum director Alexandre Schneiter, surrounded by his lawyers.

"The situation was calm”

Wetterberg turns to the road built by Lundin, which was intended to enable the oil company to conduct its operations in Block 5A -- an extraction area in what is now South Sudan -- but which, according to the prosecution, was used mainly as a fast track for transporting military troops and suppressing rebels during the period in question. "The situation was calm when the contract for the road was signed. It wasn't black," says the lawyer, referring to the colour code the oil company used when its extraction activities in Block 5A stopped because of insecurity at times other than those covered by the trial.

The defence is also trying to show that the Khartoum regime had no control over certain pro-government militias who were active in Block 5A against elements of the rebellion. “Even if some of them are referred to as 'allies of the regime', we know very little about these groups, whether they had an objective, how many there were, whether there was a chain of command,” said the lawyer. “The investigation does not answer these questions."

According to him, these militias were not loyal to the State but fought for themselves. "We believe all the examples we have shown contradict the idea that the government encouraged fighting between the different Nuer groups and that, on the contrary, it promoted peace between them." The Nuer, along with the Dinka, form one of the two largest ethnic groups in the oil-rich sub-region.

“The prosecution bases its case on the fact that the conflicts in Block 5A were part of the civil war between the SPLM/A [armed wing of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement] and the government," he told Justice Info. “What we have shown is that if you look at the reports, including by UNICEF, this is not correct. We have shown that there were many conflicts between ethnic groups, notably through the meetings in which the government was involved to try to make peace between these groups. If the prosecution doesn't show that this was a civil war, then the whole prosecution case falls on that one point. Everything else can be forgotten."

The defence is thus trying to counter the accusation made over the last two months that the population lived in relative safety in the area known as "Block 5A" before the arrival of Lundin in 1997. The prosecutor pointed out that the deterioration in the situation after the arrival of Lundin Oil and other oil companies is documented in internal Lundin Oil reports, which refer to the presence of oil companies as an aggravating factor. The prosecution presented communications with representatives of the State of Sudan, indicating that Lundin Oil was asking it to take military action to ensure its security. On the basis of press articles and NGO reports, it concluded that the directors of Lundin Oil could not have been unaware that the regime's indiscriminate violence against civilians would be reinforced by the military action they were requesting, and that their indifference in this regard made them complicit in war crimes.

"They're discussing things that didn’t take place"

In courtroom 34, on the second floor of the Stockholm courthouse, there are as few members of the public and the press as ever. But on December 5 there were some unexpected spectators who had arrived a few days earlier from South Sudan, invited by the NGO Civil Rights Defenders. They listened attentively to Wetterberg's arguments. Among them was one of the civil parties, James Dong Kuong Ninrew, who will be heard at the end of May 2024, and a lawyer, George Tai, who was 15 when he witnessed the massacres in the Leer region of southern Sudan. Interviewed at the midday break, he says: "It feels good to listen to what is taking place. But I'm disappointed that they're discussing things that didn’t take place, like the ceasefire they are talking about. I've heard, for example, that in 1999 there was a ceasefire for almost seven months. It was not the case and there was a lot of fighting that was going on."

Taking his turn to speak on Tuesday December 5, Wetterberg's co-counsel Tendorf set out to show that inter-ethnic conflicts continued after the independence of South Sudan, basing his argument on UN reports. His aim is to establish that inter- or intra-ethnic conflicts are deep-rooted, and existed before, during and after Lundin's presence.

The Swedish oil company's defence will present its arguments until 8 February 2024. Ian Lundin himself will not be questioned by the court until 10 December 2024, a year from now.