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Who killed Olof Palme, the Swedish Prime Minister assassinated in 1986?

Today, we might find out who Swedish prosecutors suspect of the killing.

Memorial plaque at Sveavagen street in Stockholm, where Olof Palme was assassinated.
Memorial plaque at Sveavagen street in Stockholm, where Olof Palme was assassinated.
Image: Shutterstock/Tupungato

AFTER THREE DECADES, Swedish prosecutors are today expected to reveal whether they are going to press charges in the 1986 assassination of Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme.

The 34-year investigation will wrap up within months, the prosecutor in charge said in May, signalling the last phase of a mystery that has gripped the country for decades.

Prosecutors will “either press charges or close the investigation,” said Krister Petersson, who leads the assassination probe, adding that they would most likely announce a decision by June.

Palme was killed on 28 February 1986, after leaving a cinema in Stockholm with his wife Lisbet to walk home. He had dismissed his bodyguards for the evening, as he often did during his tenure as the country’s leader.

An unidentified attacker approached the couple and shot Palme in the back and fled, leaving the 59-year-old dying in a pool of blood on the sidewalk.

Lisbet was slightly injured by a second shot, but survived.

Suspects and evidence

On the 30th anniversary of the crime, current prime minister Stefan Lofven called the unsolved murder an “open wound”.

“I think the whole country and, of course, the family want to see a resolution,” Lofven told newspaper Aftonbladet.

“We’ve been searching for it for so long,” he added.

More than 10,000 people have been questioned, 134 people have claimed responsibility, and the case files take up 250 metres of shelf space.

Christer Pettersson, a petty criminal and drug addict, was convicted of the crime in July 1989 after Lisbet identified him in a widely-criticised line-up.

But he was freed months later by an appeals court which dismissed Lisbet’s testimony on a technicality. Pettersson died in 2004 while Palme’s widow Lisbet passed away in 2018. 

Over the years, investigators have suspected Turkey’s Kurdish rebel group the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the Swedish military and police, and the South African secret service among others.

What is expected to be announced?

Lead investigator Petersson, who in a bizarre coincidence shares a nearly identical name with the first murder suspect, took over the investigation in 2017.

Several experts and op-eds in Swedish media have suggested that the most likely scenario would be that the case will be closed, because the main suspects speculated about in the media in recent years are all dead. 

Even if the investigation is closed, it could still be re-opened in the future should new evidence emerge.

“A decision doesn’t mean you set it in stone and lock it in a vault,” Petersson said.

Palme as a political figure

The murder of their charismatic Social Democrat leader sent Swedes into shock, and impacted on its open and safe society.

A left-wing activist in his youth, Palme was known as a great orator, but was disliked by some for his perceived arrogance, especially among conservatives who saw the wealthy-born Palme as a class traitor.

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Infuriating Washington with his vocal opposition to the US war in Vietnam, he also backed communist governments in Cuba and Nicaragua, and spoke out against apartheid and nuclear power.

At home, he laid the foundation for Sweden’s modern-day gender equality, encouraging women into the workforce by overseeing the abolition of joint spousal tax declarations, the introduction of parental leave pay and universal daycare, and the right to free abortion.

The prosecutors’ announcement will be made at 9.30am Stockholm time, and will be held online due to restrictions prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.

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