Östling steps down

“What the hell do I get for my money, not much,” were the words uttered by Leif Östling, chair of the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise, when asked by SVT about his tax arrangements in Malta and Luxembourg, revealed during the Paradise Papers leak in November.

He announced yesterday that he would leave his post as chair although would not answer any follow-up questions. The official picture is that he has successfully managed to launch a new power and decision-making structure within the Confederation. However Dagens Industri (DI) reports that a number of representatives from the board made it clear that confidence in him had been lost following his comment.

Another source tells DI that the relationship between CEO Carola Lemne and Leif Östling did not work. “From day one he tried to manoeuvre her out of the way, but failed,” says the source. The struggle between the chair and CEO also reflects a deeper conflict between industrial and service companies. The Association of Swedish Engineering Industries and the Swedish Association of Industrial Employers backed Östling after the revelations while criticism came from Almega – the Employers’ Organisation for the Swedish Service Sector and the Association of Private Care Providers.

There is a general understanding that the Confederation is in trouble and has been described as outdated and slow to change. The change of chair could also lead to a change of CEO, writes DI.

Business world in two camps

The Paradise Papers leak has stirred up the Swedish business world. Chair of the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise Leif Östling is one of those who placed funds in the tax havens of Malta and Luxembourg, and has defended his actions. He says he has paid SEK 84 million in income tax and SEK 23 million in capital gains tax in Sweden, plus SEK 70 million in Germany and claims he is following rules with his funds in Malta and Luxembourg.

Now there are calls from within the business sector for Östling to resign. One source from within the confederation says there is a risk that businesses will leave the organisation. Maria Mattsson Mähl, CEO of Alpha CE and recently nominated to the confederation’s board believes Östling’s comments damage the organisation. “Most members are working hard to pay taxes and make ends meet,” she says.

However among one of the organisation’s heavyweight representatives, support is intact. “He is speaking as a private person, so our confidence in Leif is unchanged,” says Klas Wåhlberg, CEO for the Association of Swedish Engineering Industries.