Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme, who was assassinated as he walked home in the heart of Stockholm in 1986, has a road named after him in Delhi and was posthumously, awarded the Jawaharlal Nehru Prize for International Understanding. His assassination, which had remained unsolved for over three decades, deeply pained his good friend Rajiv Gandhi, who compared the murder to that of his mother in 1984.

Palme’s murder remained unsolved for more than three decades. On Wednesday, Sweden’s Chief Prosecutor Krister Petersson said that his office was closing the case, as they had finally established who killed the politician: they believe that the now-dead Stig Engstrom was Palme’s assassin.

The crime has been the subject of several conspiracy theories that are widely popular till date. The first man arrested for the murder was Christer Pettersson, a convict who was allegedly seen acting suspiciously near the cinema where Palme was assassinated. Lisbet Palme, who was with her husband when he was shot, identified Pettersson as the shooter.

This was enough for the court to convict Pettersson and sentence him to life imprisonment. The conviction was, however, overturned on appeal as the prosecution could neither establish a motive nor recover the murder weapon.

Bofors and other conspiracy theories

Palme, who was a good friend of Rajiv Gandhi, was known for both his integrity and for keeping Sweden away from both the US and Soviet-led blocs. Till date Sweden has not joined NATO.

Under Palme, Sweden financed the African National Congress in South Africa as it the organisation fought the apartheid regime. Palme had also condemned the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and spoke out against the US involvement in Vietnam.

Besides theories blaming the Cold War giants, one conspiracy theory revolved around a Kurdish militant killing Palme. He had declared the Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK as a terrorist organisation.

A more popular theory was that Palme had come to know of the bribery involved in the Bofors scandal with India. Jan Bondeson, author of Blood on the Snow: The Killing of Olof Palme, is of the belief that there is a Bofors angle to the assassination. “It may well be that Palme found out that the Bofors company was corrupt the very day of the murder,” Bondeson told the BBC this week. “That gives the middlemen behind the Bofors deal a strong reason to murder him. But that’s something the police have always ignored.”

The India connection

Stig Engstrom, who investigators claim was Palme’s assassin, was called the Skandia Man because he had worked for the Skandia Insurance Company. He was one of the 20 people who were believed to have witnessed the assassination of Palme in 1986. Engstrom was not initially not a suspect. But noted Swedish investigative journalist Thomas Pettersson identified Engstrom as a suspect, and the police finally began to investigate him in 2004.

Skandiahuset, where Engström worked. Palme was shot at the corner, outside the Kreatima shop at the corner. Credit: I99pema / CC BY-SA

Engstrom, who committed suicide in 2000, is believed to have shot Palme because of the latter’s left-wing views and policies. His wife has strongly denied these allegations. As a witness, Engstrom had told investigators that he had arrived on the spot just after the assassination.

While Engstrom had nothing to do with Bofors or the arms industry, he does have an Indian connection. According to Pettersson’s book titled The Unlikely Murderer: Skandia Man and the Murder of Olof Palme, Engstrom was born in Mumbai in 1934 to Swedish parents.

His father was an engineer at the factory of Tandsicksbolagets, which made matches. He lived a privileged life in Mumbai and Kolkata in a Raj-style home with a nanny, chef and gardener. His parents sent him to boarding school in Tamil Nadu.

Engstrom lived in India until the age of 12, when he was sent back to Sweden.

Engstrom later went to the same boarding school as Palme. While the latter excelled in his studies there, his alleged future assassin failed his final exam. Engstrom went on to become a graphic designer and worked for Skandia. Some Swedish bloggers have even suggested that Engstrom held a lifelong grudge against Palme since he was a product of the same boarding school and managed to rise to such heights.

Ajay Kamalakaran is a journalist and writer based in Mumbai. His Twitter handle is @ajaykamalakaran.