Sex scandal jeopardizes Nobel Prize for Literature

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Stockholm, May 3 (IANS) The Nobel Prize for Literature, one of the oldest and most prestigious cultural awards, could be cancelled in 2018 as the institution that awards it is mired in a sex and financial scandal.

The Swedish Academy is under fire for how it dealt with alleged sexual misconduct by French photographer Jean-Claude Arnault, who is married to a former member of the centuries-old institution, the BBC reported on Thursday.

The Academy was scheduled to decide whether this year’s prize will go ahead, with some members reportedly concerned it was in no state to make such an award.

In November, inspired by the #MeToo campaign, 18 women made allegations of sexual assault and harassment against Arnault. Several of the alleged incidents reportedly happened in properties belonging to the Academy. Arnault has denied all the allegations.

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The organisation then voted against removing his wife, the poet and writer Katarina Frostenson from its 18-person committee.

The following day, the Academy’s Permanent Secretary Sara Danius said the institution had cut all ties with Arnault in light of the reported allegations and additional claims that some Academy staff and members’ relatives had experienced “unwanted intimacy” at the his hands.

Till now, six members of the Swedish Academy have stepped down, including Danius.

The academy is also under fire for contravening its own conflict of interest regulations by providing funding to the Kulturplats Forum, a cultural centre run by Arnault and Frostenson.

An independent investigation by a Swedish law firm revealed that “unacceptable behaviour by (Arnault) in the form of unwanted intimacy had indeed taken place, but the knowledge was not widely spread in the Academy”.

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But the team of lawyers also discovered that the Academy had received a letter in 1996 outlining alleged sexual assault at Arnault’s cultural forum, indicating that November was not the first time that some members were made aware that the photographer’s name had been connected with misconduct.

In its statement, the organization said it “deeply regrets that the letter was shelved and no measures taken to investigate the charges”.

Ebba Witt-Brattstroem, the former wife of Horace Engdahl, Academy’s Permanent Secretary from 1999 to 2009 and currently a member of the Nobel Committee for Literature, had also cast doubt on the claim that its members were largely unaware of Arnault’s alleged misconduct.

The flurry of withdrawals is potentially catastrophic for the 230-year-old academy, whose members, elected by secret ballot, must be approved by the King and traditionally hold their positions for life.

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In 1943 — the last time the literature prize was postponed — was the height of World War II and the Nazis ruled much of the European continent.

–IANS

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