Sweden's conservative make-over edges toward farce as minister stands down

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Just a month after winning elections, Sweden's new centre-right government was in turmoil as one minister quit over allegations of tax irregularities and a second remained under fire for failing to pay a TV licence.

Sweden's trade minister, Maria Borelius resigned a mere eight days after she was appointed, meaning the coalition led by Frederik Reinfeldt got off to a farcical start.

Mr Reinfeldt's four-party coalition came to power in September's elections ousting the social democrat prime minister, Göran Persson, who was prime minister for a decade.

But the euphoria of Mr Reinfeldt's victory has been punctured rapidly by a series of allegations over the 21 ministers he appointed on 6 October.

Over the weekend, Ms Borelius resigned saying: "My family, my friends, my neighbours and their children, business relations, relatives, even the friends of my children, have been subjected to such an intense scrutiny that it makes normal family life impossible." Ms Borelius admitted to hiring cleaners and nannies in the 1990s without paying employer's taxes on them, compounding her error by saying that it would have been too expensive for her to do so. Tax records showed she and her husband had a combined income several times that of an average Swedish family.

Her resignation followed a move by Mr Reinfeldt to hire a lawyer to investigate separate claims in Swedish newspapers that the trade minister also registered a summer house to a corporation in the Channel Islands to avoid paying property tax.

Ms Borelius has denied any wrongdoing with the exception of not paying taxes for the domestic employees. "All relevant information about myself is available through public records," she said.

An accomplished media performer, the Prime Minister took to the airwaves to limit the damage. Deploying his trademark humility, Mr Reinfeldt accepted part of the blame but argued that, in the long run, the row would not be seen as significant.

He argued: "If we are able to cut taxes for people with low incomes and generate more jobs, I think people will have indulgence with what has been reported."

Asked about the media focus that Ms Borelius experienced, the Prime Minister said: "I've seen a lot of things during my days in politics, but this goes above and beyond most of it."

Meanwhile the Swedish Culture Minister, Cecilia Stego Chilo, also faces pressure to resign after she admitted not having paid the TV licence fee for 16 years.

The annual fee of 1,500 kronor (£107) is the main source of funding for Sweden's public broadcasters, which Ms Chilo oversees as part of her portfolio.

Ms Chilo, who was catapulted into government after running Timbro, a free-market think-tank, was one of a number of bold appointments made by Mr Reinfeldt. Others included Burundi-born Swede, Nyamko Sabuni, as minister for integration and equality and Carl Bildt, as foreign minister.

Prime minister until 1994, Mr Bildt subsequently served as the European Union's man in Bosnia-Herzegovina and as the United Nations' Balkan envoy.

Mr Reinfeldt's government has a seven-seat majority in parliament after the elections on 17 September. His party, the Moderates, shifted from the right to the centre-ground and campaigned for power on promises to reform Sweden's fabled welfare state rather than dismantle it.

The Social Democrats held power in the Scandinavian country for all but nine years since 1932.