December 18, 2008

Nobel Jurors Investigated For Bribery

A Swedish prosecutor said Thursday that Nobel Prize jurors are under investigation on suspicion of bribery for accepting all-expense-paid visits to China in 2006 and 2008 to discuss the awards.

Nils-Erik Schultz said he opened the probe to determine whether the trips were intended to sway the decisions of the Nobel committees.  The anti-corruption prosecutor declined to name the jurors or specify how many were under investigation.

The Nobel Prizes are awarded annually, and honor achievements in medicine, chemistry, physics, literature, economics and peace.

The 10 million kronor ($1.2 million) prizes are awarded every year on Dec. 10 to mark the anniversary of prize founder Alfred Nobel's death in 1896. Four Americans, five Europeans and three Japanese received the 2008 awards last week.

The Swedish probe came after a Swedish Radio report cited three jurors from the medicine, physics and chemistry committees who were invited to China to explain the selection process and discuss what it would take to win the coveted prize.   According to the report, Chinese authorities paid for the jurors' plane tickets, hotels and meals.

If charged and convicted, those under investigation face fines or up to two years in jail.  However, it is not uncommon for Swedish prosecutors to drop such preliminary investigations without pressing charges.

Gunnar Oquist, the secretary of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, acknowledged that the trips were inappropriate.  The academy is the body responsible for awarding Nobel prizes in chemistry, physics and economics.

"We should be very careful not to put ourselves in a situation where the Nobel committee's work can be called into question," he said during an telephone interview with The Associated Press.

"I think we should have thought about that here."

Oquist said he hoped the case would not affect the reputation of the Nobel prize.

"I think that if we had known that the Nobel Prize would be at the center of this trip, we probably would have discouraged our members from going," he said.

According to the Nobel Web site, the last time China was awarded a science price was in 1957, when two Chinese researchers won the award for groundbreaking achievements in physics.

Liu Jianchao, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, told reporters on Thursday he had no information about the case.

"I'm not aware of this," Liu said from Beijing.


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