Netflix faces lawsuit over series on Swedish PM murder

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Swedish PM Olof Palme was gunned down in 1986, in an unsolved murder that has gripped the country since (AFP/Bertil ERICSON)
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Streaming service Netflix faces a defamation lawsuit in Sweden over its drama series "The Unlikely Murderer", which implicates the main suspect in the unsolved 1986 murder of Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme, legal documents showed Tuesday.

A claim submitted to Sweden's Chancellor of Justice which prosecutes freedom of expression cases, a copy of which was obtained by AFP, argues that the portrayal of former advertising consultant Stig Engstrom as the gunman constitutes "a crystal clear case of defamation".

Engstrom, who was known for his staunch opposition to Palme's leftwing policies and who died in 2000, was in June 2020 named as the main suspect in the case that has gripped the Scandinavian country for more than three decades.

But chief prosecutor Krister Petersson said that because Engstrom was dead no charges could be pressed and the case was closed.

Palme was gunned down on the evening of February 28, 1986, after leaving a Stockholm cinema with his wife, having dismissed his bodyguards for the evening.

He was shot in the back by his assailant, who fled the scene and left the 59-year-old to die in a pool of blood on the sidewalk.

Engstrom presented himself to police as a witness early on in the investigation.

In the five-part Netflix series, based on a 2018 award-winning book by investigative reporter Thomas Pettersson, the then 52-year-old Engstrom is depicted shooting Palme, then covering up his actions by posing as a witness.

The portrayal has sparked controversy in Sweden.

Netflix has defended the show as a fictional dramatisation inspired by Pettersson's book.

A text at the end of each episode says just that, and notes that Engstrom has not been proven to be the murderer.

The identity of the person who submitted the defamation lawsuit is classified, the Chancellor of Justice's office told AFP on Tuesday.

Engstrom's ex-wife Margareta has criticised the series' portrayal of her, telling public broadcaster SVT that the show's suggestion she knew more about her husband's involvement than she let on was a "personal attack".

However, she said she didn't plan to take on Netflix, saying "it would be a nightmare and cost a lot of money" to hire lawyers.

Under Swedish law you can defame the dead, if it is damaging to close relatives or dishonours the reputation of the deceased.

Netflix is facing a number of libel suits over other series, including the 2015 hit "Making a Murderer".

Chief prosecutor Petersson was also criticised last year for publicly naming a dead suspect, but said public interest in the case justified his decision.

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