Head of Nobel literature prize panel quits over sex abuse scandal

Jean-Claude Arnault with Katarina Frostenson. Mr Arnault has been accused of sexually assaulting 18 women which he denies

The head of the Swedish Academy that awards the Nobel Prize in Literature has stepped down after a sexual abuse scandal.

Eighteen women accused Jean-Claude Arnault, the husband of one of the members of the institution, of harassment and physical abuse in 2017.

The scandal "has already affected the Nobel Prize quite severely and that is quite a big problem", said Danius.

The crisis is threatening the very institution of the Academy, since members are appointed for life.

Hours after Danius' announcement, the Academy said Arnault's wife, Katarina Frostenson, had also made a decision to quit from her post on the board.

"It was the wish of the Academy that I should leave my role as Permanent Secretary", Ms Danius told reporters on Thursday.

Three members of the Academy withdrew last week over the issue, but arcane rules that make appointments for life mean that members can not technically resign, though they stop participating in activities.

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Three of the members who voted to oust her - Klas Ostergren, Kjell Espmark and Peter Englund - then announced that they would no longer work with the academy.

"This is devastating for the reputation of the Nobel prize", Mattias Berg, who covers cultural affairs for SR radio, told AFP.

After the 18 women spoke out in Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter against Arnault in November - following the #MeToo campaign - the Academy cut all ties with Arnault's cultural club Forum in Stockholm, which it had subsidised for years and which was a key meeting point for the country's cultural elite.

In 2016, the Swedish Academy came under heavy fire in some circles for awarding the Nobel Literature Prize to U.S. singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, who went on to snub the formal prize ceremony in Stockholm. Therefore, they can not resign but are technically refusing to participate without being replaced.

Of the 18 elders of the academy, seven are no longer active members, and two women have gone on leave for several years.

In an emailed comment to Reuters, Arnault's lawyer, Bjorn Hurtig, said his client rejected all allegations against him.

However, prosecutors said the investigation related to some incidents was continuing.

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