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Group tied to literature prize still under Nobel glare

September 30, 2018

FILE - In this Sept. 19, 2018, file photo, Jean-Claude Arnault arrives at the district court for the start of court proceedings in Stockholm. Arnault, a French citizen who is a major cultural figure in Sweden, is at the center of a sex-abuse and financial crimes scandal that has tarnished the academy and forced it to take a year off in choosing who should get the prestigious literature prize. (Fredrik Sandberg/TT News Agency via AP, File)

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — There won’t be a Nobel Prize in Literature this year but the Swedish Academy that awards the prestigious prize is still in the limelight.

Jean-Claude Arnault, a French citizen who is a major cultural figure in Sweden, is at the center of a sex abuse and financial crimes scandal that has tarnished the academy and forced it to take a year off in its deliberations.

The 72-year-old is now on trial in Stockholm, facing two counts of rape of a woman seven years ago. He has denied the charges.

A verdict in his case is expected on Monday, the same day that the 2018 Nobel Prize announcements kick off with the Karolinska Institute announcing who wins the Nobel award in physiology or medicine. The prosecutor has urged the court to sentence Arnault to three years in prison.

Yet no matter what the verdict for Arnault, the Swedish Academy itself has no guarantee that it will be allowed to keep awarding the literature prize.

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 — which is counter to the academy’s current plan to award both the 2018 and the 2019 literature Nobels next year.

He told the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter that it was the Swedish Academy — not the Nobel Foundation — that was going through a crisis.

“The ball essentially lies on the Swedish Academy’s court,” he said.

The allegations against Arnault, who ran a major cultural group in Sweden that was closely tied to the Swedish Academy, began in November 2017 when 18 women came forward in a Swedish newspaper with abuse accusations against him.

Arnault is married to a Swedish Academy member, poet Katarina Frostenson, who quit the body in April as tensions escalated.

That month the Swedish Academy said an internal investigation into sexual misconduct allegations found that “unacceptable behavior in the form of unwanted intimacy” had taken place within the ranks of the prestigious institution.

But a fierce internal debate over how to face up to the academy’s flaws in responding to the misconduct divided its 18 members — who are appointed for life — into hostile camps. Several members either left or disassociated themselves from the secretive academy.

The first woman to lead the body, Sara Danius, also quit in April, leading observers to wonder why some of Sweden’s most accomplished women appeared to the taking the fall for a man’s alleged misconduct.

Many people in the Scandinavian nation, which is known for promoting gender equality, have expressed dismay over the scandal, which has led to accusations of patriarchal leanings among some academy members.

In May, the Swedish Academy postponed the 2018 prize with the intention of awarding it in 2019.

The academy’s internal probe eventually led to a police investigation and the trial of Arnault before the Stockholm District Court.

Arnault also has been suspected of violating century-old Nobel rules by leaking the names of award winners — allegedly seven times, starting in 1996. It remains unclear to whom the names were leaked and it’s not known whether that has been investigated.

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Jari Tanner contributed from Helsinki.

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