STOCKHOLM (AFP): Two former executives at a Swedish oil company went on trial in Stockholm on Tuesday accused of complicity in war crimes committed by Sudan’s regime between 1999 and 2003.
Swede Ian Lundin and Swiss national Alex Schneiter are accused of asking Sudan’s government to make its military responsible for security at the site of one of Lundin Oil’s exploration fields, which later led to aerial bombings, killing of civilians and burning of entire villages, according to the prosecution.
Lundin, 62, was chief executive of family firm Lundin Oil, now known as Orron Energy, from 1998-2002, and Schneiter, 61, was vice president at the time.
Heading into the courtroom, Lundin, dressed in a grey suit, told reporters he and Schneiter looked “forward to defending ourselves in a court of law.”
“The accusations against us are false, they are completely false. They are also very vague,” he continued.
The trial is set to be the biggest in Swedish history, following an over a decade-long probe, a more than 80,000-page investigation report and with closing arguments scheduled for February 2026.
The two, who were formally named as suspects in 2016, face the formal charge of “complicity in grave war crimes” committed during the rule of Omar Al-Bashir.
In their opening arguments, the prosecution claimed that after Lundin Oil struck oil in 1999 in the “Block 5A” field in what is now South Sudan, the Sudanese military, together with an allied militia, led offensive military operations to take control of the area and create “the necessary preconditions for Lundin Oil’s oil exploration.”
Public prosecutor Henrik Attorps said “the perpetrators used tactics and weapons that neither distinguished between civilians and fighters nor civilian property and military targets.”
According to the charge sheet, this included aerial bombardments from transport planes, shooting civilians from helicopter gunships, abducting and plundering civilians and burning villages and crops.
Prosecutors claim the accused were complicit because Lundin Oil had entered into agreements with Sudan’s government to make the military responsible for security, knowing it meant the military and allied militias would need to take control of areas by “military force.”
Prosecutor Karolina Wieslander told the court that Lundin and Schneiter had demanded that Sudan create “conditions” for oil operations in areas not controlled by the military or regime allied militias, knowing the military would need to perform “offensive” operations to do this.
If convicted, Lundin and Schneiter risk life sentences.
The prosecution has already requested that the two be banned from any business undertakings for 10 years.
It has also asked for the confiscation of 2.4 billion kronor ($218 million) from Orron Energy, equivalent to the profit the company made on the sale of its Sudan operations in 2003.
The defense has argued that the prosecution’s case does not hold up.
“Our opinion is that these two years that will now be spent in the district court will be a huge waste of time and resources,” Torgny Wetterberg, a lawyer for Ian Lundin, told AFP on the eve of the trial.
Wetterberg said the defense disagreed with the prosecution’s descriptions of events, and that it had built its case on circumstantial claims with no concrete evidence.
Lundin himself noted that Sudan had long suffered from internal conflict.
“We never had anything to do with this conflict, to the contrary we were a force for good,” Lundin told reporters Monday.
Sweden can prosecute crimes committed abroad in its court system, though the government had to give its approval to indict a foreign national for crimes committed abroad.
When the charges were brought, Schneiter argued that the principle of universal jurisdiction did not apply to him as he was neither a resident nor a citizen.
His objection was eventually dismissed by Sweden’s Supreme Court, ruling in November 2022 that “some form of connection to Sweden” was necessary for an indictment and that Schneiter’s connection “in other regards” was “sufficient.”
A small group of protesters showed up in front of the Stockolm courthouse ahead of the start of the trial.
“We are here today to show our support to the people in South Sudan who have suffered due to the consequences of oil companies drillings, the business they do there,” 58-year-old Olof Andersson told AFP.