STOCKHOLM — A congressman from New York sends lewd photos of himself over the Internet. A former presidential candidate cheats on his terminally ill wife. A former California governor reveals he has a love child with the family maid.
Those peccadilloes grab headlines in America, but none is as hot in Sweden as the sex scandal involving the king — and it takes a lot to shock the Swedes.
King Carl XVI Gustaf has plunged the monarchy into a crisis because of allegations that he visited strip clubs, allowed a friend to pay a gangster to cover up the scandal and lied to his subjects.
The press is attacking the 65-year-old king, and the royal family is losing popularity among the public. In another blow to the monarchy, Queen Silvia announced plans last month for an investigation into charges that her father was a Nazi.
Carl Gustaf last week compounded his scandal in an interview with the Swedish news agency TT. When asked whether he had visited strip clubs, the king was cryptic.
"It depends what you mean by sex and strip clubs. It is a rather broad definition," he said.
The king's exploits were first exposed in a book by three Swedish journalists in November. They claimed Carl Gustaf had a secret love affair in the 1990s and described visits to private nightclubs in Stockholm where he was entertained by women in scanty outfits.
The book, "The Reluctant Monarch," also said the king went to strip clubs in Slovakia in 2008 and in Atlanta during the 1996 Olympics.
In Atlanta, he and his bodyguards reportedly visited the notorious Gold Club, a nightspot linked to American mobsters, high rollers, athletes and celebrities until the federal government shut it down 10 years ago.
In his TT interview, Carl Gustaf denied having visiting the clubs mentioned in the book.
However, defense attorneys mentioned the king's night out in the steamy racketeering trial of former Gold Club owner Steve Kaplan in 2001. The trial ended with a plea bargain with a three-year prison term for Mr. Kaplan.
Critics of the book say that it is pure gossip and that the allegations do not amount to much.
Swedes have long gossiped about the king's fondness for women and his extramarital affair during the 1990s.
Such affairs are easily overlooked in Sweden's famously tolerant society. However, Swedes disapprove of bringing government-paid bodyguards to strip clubs and lying about it to the public.
Political commentator Peter Wolodarski drew parallels with the Monica Lewinsky scandal involving President Clinton that rocked the United States in the late 1990s, and of Mr. Clinton's famous avowal of not having had "sex with that woman."
"It was a statement which very nearly cost Clinton the presidency when it later turned out that he had lied," Mr. Wolodarski wrote in the Dagens Nyheternewspaper.
"By giving the press interview, the king of Sweden has multiplied interest in his own crisis. It is the truth which will now dictate what happens."
The news agency interview was the king's second attempt to dismiss the scandal. When the book was published, the monarch used a news conference after his annual moose hunt to appeal for closure on the matter.
"Now we're turning over a new leaf," he said.
His words have since become the phrase of choice for Swedes joking about their own indiscretions.
The scandal deepened in May, when Anders Lettstrom, a friend of the king's, was recorded talking to suspected mobsters about a payoff to Mille Markovic, a former owner of a sex club in Stockholm who claimed to have pictures of the king with two naked women.
Swedish Radio aired part of those recordings in which Mr. Lettstrom is heard discussing the photos, some of which have been seen by the commercial Swedish broadcaster TV 4.
Mr. Lettstrom told the TT news agency that he contacted "criminals" but insisted that the king was unaware of his actions.
Because of the unique constitutional role of the royal family in Sweden, the king enjoys immunity from most laws and cannot be impeached in the same way an elected president can.
Nevertheless, politicians from across the political spectrum are calling for a formal investigation and a parliamentary tribunal.
"The only person who can look into this is the monarch himself, [he] who wishes it to blow over," said Sven Erik Osterberg, a Social Democrat member of parliament and a member of the Swedish constitutional oversight committee, which, he says, has the power to investigate politicians but not members of the royal family.
He added that only the king has the authority to initiate an investigation of a member of the royal family.
The monarch's wife, Queen Silvia, has avoided public comments on the scandal. She has been dogged by allegations that her late father, Walter Sommerlath, was a Nazi who ran a weapons factory confiscated from Jewish owners during World War II.
A Swedish television program, "Cold Facts," exposed her father's past in a documentary in December. At first, she denied the charges and insisted that her father ran a toy factory with no connection to Jews.
The king's behavior also raised questions about the long-term viability of the monarchy, which receives $20 million a year in taxpayer funds.
Public support for the king has plummeted. An opinion poll by the TNS-Sifo research institute published May 28 showed that 44 percent of Swedes want Carl Gustaf to continue as head of state. A year ago, his approval rating was 64 percent.
"The monarchy is so old-fashioned and irrelevant that it does not mean all that much, but the king has definitely made a fool of himself," said Niklas Barnholm, 26, a student in Stockholm.
Some say the only way to avoid further damage to the institution and the country's constitutional monarchy is for Carl Gustaf to abdicate in favor of his daughter, the popular Crown Princess Victoria.
The king, however, has rejected such speculation. "By tradition and custom, that isn't how it works," he told the news agency.
Others argue that it is time to end the 1,000-year-old monarchy.
"We don't see any point in replacing the king with his daughter on the throne," said Helena Tolvhed of the Swedish Republican Society, a citizens group fighting for an elected rather than royal head of state. "We want to get rid of the throne itself."