The Nobel Prize scandal rocking Sweden


The prestigious Swedish Academy has been engulfed by allegations of sexual assault and reports that Nobel Prize winners were leaked.

The Swedish Academy - a group of 18 distinguished Swedish writers and scholars known for selecting the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for Literature - is in turmoil following allegations of sexual assault and a local media report about the leaking of prize winners. 

Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter (DN) reported this week that Jean-Claude Arnault, 71, a well-known photographer, theatre director and husband of a long-time Swedish Academy member, knowingly leaked the names of Nobel Prize winners on seven occasions prior to them being announced.

The same newspaper last year revealed 18 women had made allegations of sexual assault against Arnault, sparking a crisis at the academy.

Danius tells journalists that she will leave her position of the Swedish Academy immediately.
Danius tells journalists that she will leave her position of the Swedish Academy immediately.

The head of the Swedish Academy, Sara Danius has stepped down over the matters, after criticism over how the institution handled the probe into the allegations.

“It was the wish of the Academy that I should leave my role as Permanent Secretary,” Danius told reporters.

“I have made this decision with immediate effect.”

Arnault has denied all allegations made against him and there has yet to be any formal charges laid.

Jean-Claude Arnault
Jean-Claude Arnault, right.
Twitter / dw_WomenTalk

The sexual assault claims lead to further allegations about leaks around prizewinners after an internal investigation by Swedish law firm Hammarskiöld & Co.

The academy, founded in 1786 as a way to preserve Swedish language and literature, is now facing the most precarious situation in its history – with investigations by police, gaming companies and the Nobel Foundation itself – assessing whether it can still be trusted.

Sexual assault allegations

DN reported that several members of the academy, as well as members' wives and daughters, made allegations of sexual assault against Arnault as part of the global #MeToo campaign in November - all of which he denies. 

The newspaper published the testimony of 18 women who claimed to have been sexually assaulted by Arnault - an influential director of a literary club in Stockholm. The alleged sexual assaults occurred between 1996 and 2017. 

Several of the alleged acts reportedly took place in properties owned by the academy. 

The Swedish Academy in Stockholm.
The Swedish Academy in Stockholm.

The academy was quick to sever all ties and funding with Arnault. 

A vote was put to academy members over whether to exclude his wife – notable poet Katarina Frostenson - from the academy, but the majority voted she stay on.

Shock resignations

In protest over the close ties Arnault has within the institution, academy members Kjell Espmark, Klas Ostergren and Peter Englund announced their resignations in an unprecedented move last week.

Englund announced his resignation with a statement on his blog: “Decisions were made that I don’t believe in nor can defend, and I have therefore decided to no longer participate in the Swedish Academy’s work,” he said. 

Swedish poet and spouse of Arnault, Katarina Frostenson has kept her position in the academy.
Swedish poet and spouse of Arnault, Katarina Frostenson has kept her position in the academy.

The 18 members are elected for life, meaning the three seats, of those who quit,  and that of Danius' are set to remain unfilled until their deaths.

Their announcement led the academy's then secretary Sara Danius to hold an emergency meeting with current monarch King Carl XVI Gustaf at his palace on the island of Lovön, outside Stockholm.

"Problems are there to be solved, and I think that sooner or later that’s what we will do," the king told news organisation TT.

Winners’ names leaked

Arnault was reportedly involved in the leaking of Nobel Prize winners before they were made public.

The academy hired a law firm to investigate Arnault’s ties to the organisation, and whether there were other wrongdoings going on.

DN reported the inquiry concluded secrecy rules on Nobel Prize deliberations had been broken on numerous occasions and Arnault was found to be the instigator behind the leaking of the winning names of the Nobel Prize for Literature on seven occasions since 1996.

The winners affected were: Wislawa Szymborska, 1996, Elfriede Jelinek, 2004, Harold Pinter, 2005, Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio, 2008, Patrick Modiano, 2014, Svetlana Aleksijevitj, 2015 and Bob Dylan, 2016.

Bob Dylan won the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize.
Bob Dylan won the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize.

Suspicions of an internal leak were reportedly discussed in 2008 when just before the announcement for French writer Le Clézio, betting odds of him winning went from 15 to one to being the clear frontrunner.

Similar dealings are reported to have happened on the other six occasions. The lawyers are also reported to have “seven credible and independent testimonies” who claim Arnault spread classified information prior to the prize announcements.

In a statement released on Wednesday, the Nobel Foundation, which is responsible for selecting the winners for the world-renowned Nobel Prizes, said the alleged chain of events at the Swedish Academy were of “great concern”.

“It is inevitable that a severe crisis at a prize-awarding institution also harms the Nobel Prize's reputation.

“We can see that the trust in the Swedish Academy has been seriously damaged. It is not yet clear how this situation may tarnish the Nobel Prize’s reputation.”

Betting companies investigating

At least two of Sweden’s largest gaming companies, Unibet and Betson have also launched investigations into the claims and will examine the movements of certain odds in the days before prizes were announced.

“We did not see any indication of suspicious games then, but we'll look back on it again,” Robin Olenius, CEO of Betson told DN.

“If it were to be leaked, it's too bad. But I'm extremely surprised if we find something.”

While Olenius doubts the leaks have affected games at Betson, he does acknowledge “it may have affected games in other countries.”

According to Olenius, betting on the Nobel Peace Prize in Literature has become increasingly popular over the years, but said winnings are modest.

The exact amount of money spent on the literature prize with betting company Unibet is still unknown but its communications manager Alexander Westrell said such betting was not as extensive as in sport.

“Historically, this type of game has low turnover compared to sports, but we still have the same strict guarding,” he said.

Unibet is now focusing on its internal investigation before providing any more information.

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