Frenchman at heart of scandal at Swedish Academy goes on trial for rape

Jean-Claude Arnault, the Frenchman at the centre of a sexual assault scandal that prompted several members of the prestigious Swedish Academy to quit, went on trial Wednesday for two counts of rape that emerged during the #MeToo campaign.

Frenchman Jean-Claude Arnault arrives at the district court in Stockholm on September 19, 2018, where he is to appear accused of rape and sexual assault.


According to the charges, the 72-year-old allegedly forced the victim, whose identity has not been disclosed, to have oral sex and intercourse in a Stockholm apartment in October, 2011, and raping her in her sleep in December the same year.

If found guilty, Arnault faces up to six years in prison. He has denied all charges.

Prior to the accusations, Arnault was a prominent figure in Sweden’s cultural life.

Married to Katarina Frostenson, a member of the Swedish Academy which has been selecting Nobel literature laureates since 1901, Arnault ran the Forum club in Stockholm, a key meeting place for the cultural elite and a popular spot among aspiring young authors hoping to make contact with publishers and writers. Due to his close ties with some of the Academy’s 18 members, Arnault occasionally boasted of being the Academy’s “19th member”, and witnesses claim he regularly leaked the names of Nobel prize winners before they were announced.

#MeToo effect

In November 2017 – roughly a month after a string of explosive sexual accusations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein triggered the worldwide #MeToo movement – Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter published testimonies from a total of 18 women claiming to have either been raped, sexually assaulted or harassed by Arnault.

An internal investigation by the Academy later revealed that several members, as well as wives and daughters of members, had also experienced “unwanted intimacy” and “inappropriate” behaviour from the accused.

The scandal led to two of the Academy’s 18 members, including its permanent secretary Sara Danius, to resign. Several others, including Arnault’s wife, are no longer taking part in the Academy’s work as a consequence of the row but have not formally resigned.

In May, the academy announced that it would not award a Nobel prize in literature this year.

‘Culture of silence’

Seen as bearers of high culture, the Academy, founded in 1786, is traditionally known for integrity and discretion, with its meetings and decisions shrouded in secrecy.

But the scandal has unveiled what critics have called “a culture of silence”, “nepotism” and “stale macho values” within the prestigious institution.

Disagreements within the Academy on how to deal with the scandal sowed deep discord among members.

It is expected to select new members in the coming months to, among other things, read the works of dozens of authors and select two Nobel laureates — one for 2018 and another for 2019.

Arnault was born in Marseille in 1946 to Russian refugee parents. He arrived in Sweden in the late 1960s to study photography.

The trial is held behind closed doors, and closing remarks are expected to be delivered on September 24.

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