Last updated: 14 April, 2012

Saudi denies any Swedish deal to build arms plant

Saudi Arabia on Saturday denied any deal with Sweden to build an arms factory, in its first reaction to a weeks-old controversy which led to the resignation of the Swedish defence minister.

“The Saudi defence ministry affirms that no accord has been signed in the past with the friendly kingdom of Sweden to build a weapons factory in Saudi Arabia and that no such project exists,” state news agency SPA reported.

Swedish Defence Minister Sten Tolgfors resigned on March 29 after weeks of controversy over media reports.

Public broadcaster Swedish Radio has said the Swedish Defence Research Agency (FOI) had secret plans since 2007 to help Saudi Arabia build a plant for the production of anti-tank weapons.

The radio said part of the so-called Project Simoom involved the creation of a shell company called SSTI to handle dealings with Saudi Arabia, in order to avoid any direct links to FOI and the government.

Sweden has in the past sold weapons to Saudi Arabia but classified government documents state Project Simoom “pushes the boundaries of what is possible for a Swedish authority,” it said, breaking the story on March 6.

“The fact that an authority such as FOI is involved in the planning of a weapons factory for a government in a dictatorship such as Saudi Arabia is quite unique,” the radio said.

Tolgfors admitted on March 9 he knew of FOI’s plans to help Riyadh build the factory and of the shell company, but has stressed no Swedish laws had been broken.

The 45-year-old father of two insisted he had already planned to resign, among other things for family reasons, but that media attention had accelerated his decision.