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Artistic director accused of leaking information about Nobel Prize laureates

Foto: Lisa Mattisson

Several people say that the artistic director of a Swedish cultural institution, here referred to as ”the Club”, who has previously been accused of sexual assault, has spread information about the Nobel Prize laureate in literature, before its announcement. 

”That piece of shit,” Peter Englund, former Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, says. He blames the leak on the man’s wife, who is one of the members of the Academy.

Peter Englund also reveals that he has known about the involvement of the artistic director since 2014. 

Two days before Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, Peter Englund, opened the doors to announce the laureate of the Nobel prize in literature 2014, several people outside the 18 members of the Academy knew which name he would be saying. That is what one of the anonymous women who has come forward in DN’s article about an artistic director of a Swedish cultural institution saying that she has been sexually harassed and assaulted him, says. 

The artistic director has been a well-known part of the cultural sphere in Stockholm for many years. Two weeks ago 18 women told DN that he had sexually harassed and assaulted them over many years. The institution that the artistic director runs, together with his wife, who is a member of the Swedish Academy, is here referred to as the Club. 

Three women say that the artistic director of the Club leaked the names of the Nobel Prize laureates to them beforehand. The names were Elfriede Jelinek in 2004, Harold Pinter in 2005 and Patrick Modiano in 2014. According to several people the man also said that he had been involved in the prize that went to Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio in 2008. 

”The artistic director has always wanted to depict himself as big and important so I don’t know what is correct, but he often talked about his involvement in the new members being chosen. And in the Nobel prize laureate,” says one of the three women.

She worked at the Club during the autumn of 2014. 

Two days before the name of that year’s laureate was announced, she was sitting at the office. 

”He came and asked me, in passing, if I wanted to know who would receive the prize. I gave him a look as if I didn’t believe him, and then he said it was Patrick Modiano. And that ‘you could bet on him, if you dare’, which I didn’t do. Then he hurried away.”

Suspicions of leaks in the Swedish Academy have often been discussed, especially since betting on the prize gained popularity early in the 2000’s. Several times odds for certain laureates sunk close to the announcement. One of those times was in 2014, when Patrick Modiano received the prize. 

Former Permanent Secretary, Peter Englund, says to DN that the new accusations against the artistic director would have chocked him if they would have come a few weeks ago. 

”But now I have to say that nothing surprises me anymore concerning that person. That piece of shit.” 

If the information about the leaks is correct, how would he have received that information?

”He got it from his wife, I guess,” says Peter Englund. 

He also reveals that he received information about the artistic director being a suspected leak in 2014. 

”Yes, that was concerning Modiano. There was an article in French media – if I remember it correctly is was in Le Monde – which pointed towards the artistic director. I had a conversation with him, but he denied everything. And I spoke to his wife, who reacted as she usually reacts when any shadow falls on the artistic director. She attacked in an aggressive fashion, and I dropped the question.”

So she made you drop it? 

”I dropped the issue since there was nothing more than the information in the article. I didn’t have any further indications of there actually being a leak.”

But Modiano’s Nobel Prize is one of the prizes that has been mentioned in speculations about leaks. 

”I don’t remember the exact passage of events, but I acknowledged the information that at one occasion was mentioned in French media. And then I went to the people that were concerned, and they denied everything. They said this was all a misunderstanding. And I dropped the issue. I might have told Sara Danius (now Permanent Secretary) when she took over, but other than that I haven’t discussed the issue,” says Peter Englund. 

Two women, who previously spent time in the same social group, say that the artistic director leaked who would receive the Nobel Prize also during the period that Horace Engdahl was Permanent Secretary. 

In the late summer of 2004 they were both with the artistic director at a restaurant in central Stockholm. He started talking about the Nobel Prize. 

”He often said that he knew which people were being discussed. He wanted to seem important, and show us that he really was a part of that circle. Which he in many ways was, so I believed him,” one of them says. 

This evening at the restaurant the artistic director started to disclose different clues about who the laureate could be. 

”He said it would be a woman. A playwright. A feminist. Controversial, and so on. When my friend guessed Elfriede Jelinek he laughed in a way that both of us interpreted as total confirmation,” she says about her friend, who also remembers hearing the who would be the laureate: 

”He clearly gave signals that it was Jelinek. But when she received the prize I realised I hadn’t taken it seriously. I was chocked when they said her name: ‘Hell, he really knew’.”

She says the same thing happened the year after. 

”I was involved in a big project concerning the playwright Harold Pinter, who at the time was relatively unknown in Sweden. I was at a restaurant with my friend, who also heard the artistic director say that my Pinter-project was very suitable, and would be highly appreciated in a few months. And that was more than a hint. He said the name, and I knew he was right.”

Except the three women who say there were direct leaks, several others talk about the artistic director’s way of talking about his insights in the work of the Swedish Academy concerning the Nobel Prize. 

”He never gave me any names, but he was always talking about that he knew who would win,” one woman says. 

The artistic director is claimed to especially have talked about his involvement in Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio’s prize, even before the announcement. 

”He used to bring him up, and sometimes Modiano, and talk about them in a way that made it seem like he had influence. He could say things like ”it’s about time” or ”I will put pressure on them”. I used to think he was just bragging. He said these things to impress girls. But it has been strange to hear the names being called out later,” another woman says. 

Horace Engdahl himself expressed suspicions about leaks in the Swedish Academy in 2008, when Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio received the prize. Shortly before the announcement the odds for the author dropped, and the betting company Ladbrokes stopped the betting. In an interview in the radio programme ”P1 Morgon” Horace Engdahl said he was convinced that there was a leak, and said the Academy would ”shut it down”. 

But now he doesn’t want to comment on the new information about what is said to have happened during his time as Permanent Secretary. ”I would break the rules of the Swedish Academy if I commented, without being specifically commissioned by a decision in the Academy. That’s what our rules look like,” he writes in an e-mail to DN. 

Peter Englund confirms the leak in connection with Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio’s Nobel Prize, and that it had a ”French connection”. 

”There were indications of a French connection, which had to do with the patterns of betting, which were connected to French-speaking territories,” Peter Englund says. 

Many French people put their bets on Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio? 

”That’s all I remember: the indications concerning the leak had to do with how the odds changed in French speaking territories. That’s when Ladbroke stopped the betting, I think. But it was before my time as Permanent Secretary.”

Have these indications – and the fact that the artistic director seemed to be implicated in French media in 2014 – not made the Academy suspect the leak these women now talk about? 

”No, not at all. There has been a large consensus among the members, all the members, that the leaks are very harmful to the Academy, and that they risk to devaluate the prize.”

The betting companies Ladbrokes, Unibet and Betsson, today say that they now don’t have any information about leaks affecting the betting on the Nobel Prize laureates in literature. Several laureates have also been described as surprises by the betting companies, among them this year’s laureate Kazuo Ishiguro. The possible rewards in betting on the Nobel Prize are also low in comparison to the sums bet on in sports, the companies say. 

Natali Phalen, president of the Institute against bribery, tells DN that possible crimes can be suspected if an outsider has paid for information about the laureate, through presents or gifts. There is no information about this happening in any of the cases described in this article. 

Peter Englund emphasizes that the Academy takes the suspicions seriously, and says that they could be a breach against confidentiality. 

What consequences could that have? 

”You have to talk to Sara Danius about that,” Peter Englund says. 

As DN has previously described, the Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, Sara Danius, has contracted a law firm to investigate each member’s ties to the artistic director, and if the man has had any impact on the work of the institution. 

Last week Swedish newspaper Expressen noted that the investigation – conducted by Hammarskiöld & Co – specifically will look into if the Academy has been affected in the choice of Nobel prize laureate, and if any members might have leaked the information beforehand. 

”I can neither confirm nor deny that information. When the investigation is finished we will present it to the Swedish Academy. We have to get to the bottom concerning all questions and conduct a thorough investigation,” Peder Hammarskiöld, lawyer at the firm, says to DN. 

DN has tried to contact Sara Danius for a comment about the new allegations concerning leaks, and what consequences they could have, but she doesn’t want to be interviewed. 

”Unfortunately I can’t answer any questions at the moment as an investigation is being conducted,” she writes in an e-mail. 

DN has tried to reach the artistic director and his wife, who is a member of the Swedish Academy, to give them a chance to address the allegations. 

Translation: Evelyn Jones

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