Social Democratic Party members from the Syrian community presided over a form of “mob rule” in the municipality of Sigtuna, Sweden, state television suggests.
An investigative report by SVT, a licence-fee funded public broadcaster similar to the British Broadcasting Corporation, indicates the “takeover” began in 2002, when the Social Democrats under Anders Johansson wrested control of the area from the Moderate Party.
Former Mayor Peter Kockum, who was ousted by Johansson, told reporter Jesper Henke the Social Democrats had achieved a swing of around six or seven per cent by promising Syrian community leaders he would sell them a plot of land for a single krona (crown).
The Social Democrats have dominated the municipality ever since, and Kockum believes the 2002 elections “changed the political life of Sigtuna” permanently.
Politics in the area is now based on exchanging “different types of benefits and favours”, he told Henke.
“Do you understand? It’s corruption, and nothing else,” he emphasised.
The journalists focused on one Syrian businessman and Social Democrat Party member in particular during their investigation: Ismet Karademir.
Karademir’s football club, for example, was subsidised by the municipality under Johansson through a special order exempting it from rent. Administrative Law professor Olle Lundin told Henke that this arrangement was of dubious legality, and demonstrated “contempt for local democracy”.
Johansson, no longer mayor, denied he had exceeded his authority, but admitted to having made “an error”.
In 2015 the football club went bankrupt owing the municipality 340,000 crowns and its director was jailed for accounting fraud – but Karademir was not prosecuted, having stepped down as chairman in 2013.
A clubhouse associated with the organisation, alleged to be an illegal gambling den, has become a hub for Syrians, including relatives of Karademir. Henke claimed to have seen Karademir’s own car parked outside while surveying it at night.
The municipality’s security director believes the clubhouse contributes to insecurity in the area. One of the men staying at the den is said to have attacked a teacher at a nearby school after she asked him to stop speeding, and threatened to shoot her.
A local woman told the reporters that “there are large gangs and shootings” in Sigtuna now, and drug-dealing has become common.
Attempts to evict the clubhouse’s tenants were thwarted when the current Social Democrat mayor, Ibrahim Khalifa, intervened to prevent it.
Professor Lundin told Henke that Khalifa had no legal authority to do this, but said it could be difficult for local officials to withstand a politician playing “Wild West”.
Khalifa was also said to have promised Karedimir he would prevent the closure of a pizzeria with no building permit which serves as a Social Democrat hub, and is alleged to have intervened in a housing project to steer the contract towards a company chaired by Karademir.
Criticism of local politics in Sigtuna has not only come from political rivals. Anna Kalles, a prominent Social Democrat from the area, told Henke that many officials had approached her to complain of what she described as “mob rule” in the municipality. She described the council as being under the personal control of Khalifa.
Both Karedimir and Khalifa denied any impropriety.