April 12, 2018 / 7:32 PM / 13 days ago

Head of Nobel-awarding Swedish Academy steps down after criticism

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - The head of the Swedish Academy stepped down on Thursday after criticism of how the institution, which picks the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, handled a probe into allegations of sexual misconduct by a man married to one of its members.

The Swedish Academy's Permanent Secretary Sara Danius and academy member Sara Stridsberg leave the Swedish Academy after a meeting, in Stockholm, Sweden April 12, 2018. Danius said to journalists that she would leave her position and the Swedish Academy immediately. TT News Agency/Jonas Ekstromer/ via REUTERS

Shortly afterwards, the Academy announced that the man’s wife had decided to quit her post on the board.

Three members of the Academy withdrew last week over the issue, but arcane rules that make appointments for life mean that members cannot technically resign, though they stop participating in activities.

“It was the wish of the Academy that I should leave my role as Permanent Secretary,” Sara Danius, who has held the post since 2015, told reporters.

“I have made this decision with immediate effect.”

The Swedish Academy's Permanent Secretary Sara Danius talks to the media as she leaves after a meeting at the Swedish Academy in Stockholm, Sweden April 12, 2018. Danius said to journalists that she would leave her position and the Swedish Academy immediately. TT News Agency/Jonas Ekstromer/ via REUTERS

The public row and defections from the Academy have raised concerns that the image of the Nobel Prizes and Sweden’s reputation abroad could suffer.

“It has already affected the Nobel Prize quite severely and that is quite a big problem,” Danius said.

The allegations of sexual assault and harassment were made against Jean-Claude Arnault, the husband of Academy member Katarina Frostenson who also stepped down on Thursday.

The Swedish Academy's Permanent Secretary Sara Danius talks to the media as she leaves after a meeting at the Swedish Academy in Stockholm, Sweden April 12, 2018. Danius said to journalists that she would leave her position and the Swedish Academy immediately. TT News Agency/Jonas Ekstromer/ via REUTERS

In an emailed comment to Reuters, Arnault’s lawyer, Bjorn Hurtig, said his client rejected all allegations against him.

“Jean-Claude Arnault rejects all claims of criminal activity and he rejects other allegations that have been made against him,” Hurtig said.

State prosecutors opened a preliminary investigation into the incidents, but said last month some parts of the probe had been shelved due to a lack of evidence and the statute of limitations having passed for some of the incidents.

However, prosecutors said the investigation related to some incidents was continuing.

The Swedish Academy said in a statement that Frostenson had decided to leave her post “in the hope that the Swedish Academy will survive as an institution.”

The Academy severed ties with Arnault, whom it had helped financially in running a cultural club in Stockholm, in November following the allegations made against him.

Reporting by Simon Johnson and Johannes Hellstrom; Editing by Richard Balmforth

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