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Anger as case closed on mysterious 1986 killing of Swedish PM


Olof Palme was shot dead 34 years ago (Anders Holmstrom/TT via AP)

Olof Palme was shot dead 34 years ago (Anders Holmstrom/TT via AP)

Olof Palme was shot dead 34 years ago (Anders Holmstrom/TT via AP)

A Swedish prosecutor closed the case of the assassination of former prime minister Olof Palme after 34 years yesterday, accusing a graphic designer who died two decades ago of the country's most notorious unsolved crime.

Mr Palme, who led Sweden's Social Democrats for decades and served two periods as prime minister, was one of the architects of Scandinavia's model of a strong welfare state, and a fierce Cold War-era critic of the United States and Soviet Union.

He was shot dead in central Stockholm in 1986 after a visit to the cinema with his wife and son, and the failure of the police to find a killer sparked decades of conspiracy theories.

"It is my sincere hope that this wound can now be allowed to heal," Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said, describing the murder as a national trauma.

But the suspicion of many Swedes is unlikely to be satisfied by yesterday's accusation, against a long dead suspect with no political profile, based on evidence the prosecutor acknowledged would have been too thin to secure a conviction.

"The Palme investigation concluded in the manner that has defined it since the very beginning: a great anticlimax," daily newspaper 'Dagens Nyheter' said. "Instead of clarity concerning the issue of guilt, we got a monument to a policing fiasco."

Prosecutor Krister Petersson, who has led an investigation into the case since 2017, said the killer was Stig Engstrom, a suspect long known to Swedes as "Skandia man" after the insurance firm where he worked as a graphic designer, with offices near the scene of the shooting.

Mr Engstrom was repeatedly questioned in early investigations but dismissed as a serious suspect at the time.

He died in 2000 in a suspected suicide.

A 2018 book by an investigative journalist brought to light a range of previously overlooked evidence reigniting interest in Mr Engstrom.

Mr Petersson said Mr Engstrom had been implicated by information about his whereabouts and witness accounts of the killer's appearance.

"Because the person is dead, I cannot bring charges against him and have decided to close the investigation," Mr Petersson said.

He did not announce any major investigative breakthroughs, nor could he give a clear motive for the killing, though he said Mr Engstrom was known to dislike Mr Palme and his politics.

The prosecutor said he felt confident the evidence would have been sufficient to arrest Mr Engstrom, although it "would not, in itself, lead to a conviction" without corroborating evidence which it was no longer possible to obtain.

Mr Palme's son, Marten, said he believed Mr Engstrom was guilty, "but unfortunately there is no conclusive evidence".

Mr Engstrom's family have repeatedly dismissed accusations he was the killer.

Mr Palme was prime minister from 1969-1976 and again from 1982-1986.

Supporters hail him as the architect of modern Sweden, while conservatives denounced his support of revolutionary movements in the developing world.

His support for the anti-apartheid African National Congress made him an enemy of the South African authorities, and while his opposition to the Vietnam War angered many Americans, he was also fiercely critical of the Soviet Union.

For decades, conspiracy theories around his killing have blamed a range of forces, from the CIA and Kurdish separatists to the South African security services.

Irish Independent