Systembolaget is still at the centre of bribery allegations which continue to escalate.

Systembolaget, the Swedish drinks retailer with a monopoly on the supply of wine and spirits in the country, has sacked 40 retail branch managers for taking cash from drinks companies in return for stocking their products, according to reports in Sweden. One report alleged that up to one in five managers may be involved in the escalating scandal.

Anitra Steen, CEO of Systembolaget, told reporters yesterday: "We are working towards assuring ourselves that in the future this type of thing won't happen." Steen has called in a firm of crisis-consultants to handle the affair.

Swedish Prime Minister Goeran Persson, in parliament yesterday, voiced his confidence in the company's board. "I have no reason at all to accuse the board," he said.

Systembolaget said some suppliers had bought large stocks of their own brands to boost sales and improve their standing in the company's brand selection process. Systembolaget has not identified the suppliers involved in the investigation.

The scandal first came to prominence in January this year, when the company dismissed five store managers for alleged corruption.

The Swedish government has steadfastly refused to privatise Systembolaget. Last year, however, it finally permitted a limited number of stores to open on Saturdays to reduce the queues on the streets on Friday afternoons.