IT was a killing that shocked Europe but, after a quarter of a century without a credible culprit, new evidence has emerged that may help to solve the mystery of who murdered the Swedish Prime Minister, in 1986.
According to a German investigation, the killer of Olof Palme was in the pay of the Yugoslav secret service and the assassination was part of a Balkan plot that stretched from Belgrade to Stockholm, and even to Kirkcaldy in Fife.
The Germans believe that Vinko Sindicic, a former member of a Yugoslav hit squad who has already helped German prosecutors to convict the killer of a Croatian oil executive in Munich, has provided a crucial tip.
Mr Sindicic was sentenced to 15 years in prison by Dunfermline High Court in 1988 for attempting to kill an influential Croatian nationalist leader based in Scotland.
According to Focus magazine, which traditionally has good contacts with the German security services, Mr Sindicic, 67, claims that the Yugoslav secret service killed Mr Palme and planned to pin the killing on right-wing Croatian separatists – a thorn in the side of the Yugoslav leadership – and thus discredit them in the eyes of the world.
Josip Broz Tito, the former Yugoslav dictator, had ordered his secret police to assassinate dissidents across the world, whatever the cost. If Croatian “extremists” could be shown to have killed Mr Palme, Western governments would be forced to stop sheltering them. Mr Tito died in 1980 but the policy continued.
Mr Sindicic has claimed that it was Yugoslav agents who trailed Mr Palme and his wife, Lisbet, as they walked home in the centre of Stockholm after watching a late-night film on February 28, 1986.
The couple had given their bodyguards the night off. As they strolled down the Sveavagen shopping street in the city, a man approached them from behind and shot them using a Smith & Wesson handgun. Mr Palme was rushed to hospital and pronounced dead shortly afterwards; his wife survived.
Mr Sindicic has told the German authorities that the killer was a man called Ivo D. Now aged 65, he supposedly lives in Zagreb as a pensioner, but at the time of the crime he was living in Hamburg. The gun was allegedly smuggled to Sweden by boat from the US.
A detailed dossier, put together by the German secret service and drawing on information supplied by London and Edinburgh, was sent to the special Palme commission in Stockholm. “The criminal investigation police in Stockholm did not respond to the dossier,” Josef Hufelschulte, who conducted the investigation for Focus, said. “It took eight months for them to ask for information via an Interpol request sent to the Bavarian police. By that time, Ivo D had moved from Hamburg to Zagreb.”
Although Chief Superintendent Stig Edquist, the head of the Palme commission, has seen the dossier, he admitted last year that “it will be very very difficult ever to solve this murder”.
The assassination, which spawned dozens of conspiracy theories, was initially blamed on a Swedish extremist but the suspect was quickly cleared. He later emigrated to the US and was himself murdered. Kurdish exiles were also blamed but nothing conclusive was found.
Mr Palme, a Social Democrat, was a fierce opponent of the South African apartheid regime and at least one trail led towards Johannesburg. The motive was apparently to stop secret Swedish government payments to the banned African National Congress. Others claimed that the Prime Minister had been targeted by men acting on behalf of an arms industry cartel.
The Baader-Meinhof group in German also briefly claimed responsibility. Christer Pettersson, a brain-damaged Swedish petty criminal, was convicted for the killing but the sentence was quashed by the appeals court.
Each trail took the Swedish detectives involved into some of the darkest corners of history, but the Yugoslav connection remains the most plausible.
The theory has two components. The first was that Miro Baresic, a Croat killer, had attacked the Yugoslav Embassy in Stockholm, murdering the country’s ambassador, in 1971. He fled to the US and was extradited at Mr Palme’s request. While serving his sentence, he publicly vowed to kill the Prime Minister.
The second strand was to connect Baresic with Nikola Stedul, the Croatian separatist, at his exiled home in Kirkcaldy. A conversation between the two men about killing Mr Palme was secretly taped.
The Yugoslav secret service never managed to persuade the Swedes or other nations that the Croats were behind the killing.
Soon the Yugoslav leadership was fighting to preserve a disintegrating Serb-run federation and its secret service found itself occupied with other matters.