Swedish court finds Frenchman at centre of Nobel Prize scandal guilty of rape

The man at the centre of a sex abuse and financial crimes scandal that is tarnishing the academy that awards the Nobel Prize in Literature has been convicted of rape and sentenced to two years in prison.

Since April, 7 members of prestigious academy have quit or been forced to leave

Jean-Claude Arnault, a major cultural figure in Sweden, was convicted Monday of rape and sentenced to two years in prison. (Fredrik Sandberg/TT News Agency via Associated Press)

The man at the centre of a sex-abuse and financial crimes scandal that is tarnishing the academy that awards the Nobel Prize in Literature was convicted of rape and sentenced to two years in prison on Monday.

Jean-Claude Arnault, 72, a major cultural figure in Sweden, had faced two counts of rape for the same woman in 2011. He was found guilty of one rape but was acquitted of the other, because the victim said she was asleep at the time and judges said her account wasn't reliable. Arnault had denied the charges.

Stockholm District Court said the ruling by the judge and three jurors was unanimous.

The victim's lawyer, Elisabeth Massi Fritz, said Monday's verdict was important both for her client and for the #MeToo movement.

"[It was] a big relief for my client, who today believes in justice," she said. "No rape victims should be silent, no rape victims should feel guilt or shame."

Judge Gudrun Antemar said the role of the court was to decide whether the prosecutor had proved the charges beyond a reasonable doubt.

"The court's conclusion is that the evidence is enough to find the defendant guilty of one of the events," she said, adding the evidence "has mainly consisted of statements made during the trial by the injured party and several witnesses."

Appeal expected

In Sweden, rape is punishable by a minimum of two years and a maximum of six years in prison.

"We are obviously disappointed," Arnault's lawyer, Bjorn Hurtig told TT News Agency. "I spoke to him a few minutes ago and his order was to start working on an appeal."

Prosecutor Christina Voigt had demanded three years in prison for Arnault, a French photographer who ran a cultural centre in Stockholm that had financial ties to the Swedish Academy and who was a key figure among Sweden's cultural elite.

Swedish prosecutor Christina Voigt speaks to the media about the court case in Stockholm on Sept. 24. Voigt had been seeking a three-year sentence for Arnault. (Janerik Henriksson/TT via Associated Press)

Despite Arnault's prominence in Sweden, Voigt told Sweden's news agency TT that "this case is no different from any other rape trial."

Arnault is married to a Swedish Academy member and poet, Katarina Frostenson, and is the reason that the famous yet secretive literature body is in such turmoil right now.

The case began in November, when 18 women came forward in a Swedish newspaper with accusations against Arnault.

'Unwanted intimacy'

In April, the Swedish Academy said an internal investigation into sexual misconduct allegations found that "unacceptable behaviour in the form of unwanted intimacy" had taken place within the ranks of the prestigious institution. That led to a police investigation.

A bitter internal debate then erupted over Arnault's behaviour, with seven of the academy's 18 members either being forced to leave or quitting in April, including his wife Frostenson as well as the first woman to lead the academy, Sara Danius.

To many in the Scandinavian nation, which is known for promoting gender equality, it seemed that women again were taking the fall for a man's alleged bad behaviour. That and the abuse allegations shredded the academy's reputation.

Judge Gudrun Antemar delivered the decision involving Arnault at the district court in Stockholm. (Anders Wiklund/TT via Associated Press)

Commenting on Monday's verdict, Peter Englund, one of the Swedish Academy members who quit in April, told TT he was "very pleased" that justice was done.

After the sex abuse allegations surfaced, the Swedish Academy's annual funding of $18,000 Cdn to Arnault's cultural centre was immediately stopped. The academy stressed it had not been paid to Arnault personally.

In May, the academy announced that no Nobel Literature prize would be awarded this year and two — for 2018 and 2019 — would be awarded next year.

Still, there is no guarantee that will happen.

Lars Heikensten, the head of the Nobel Foundation, has warned that if the Swedish Academy does not resolve its tarnished image his agency could decide that another group would be a better host. He even suggested there could be no Nobel Literature Prize awarded in 2019 either.

Arnault is also suspected of violating century-old Nobel rules by leaking names of winners of the prestigious award — allegedly seven times, starting in 1996. It is not known whether that has been investigated.