| STOCKHOLM (AFP)
Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf gave a rare interview in an attempt to quash a swelling scandal, flatly rejecting media reports he had visited strip clubs and even had indirect contact with organised crime.
In a long interview with the TT news agency published late Monday, Sweden's head of state denied recent reported claims from a former mafia member, Mille Markovic, that he had pictures in his possession showing the king in a sex club in the same shot as two naked women.
"No, it is impossible that they exist," the king insisted, stressing that "it is also difficult to comment on something one has not seen and no one else has seen either."
The royal court has demanded that public broadcaster TV4, which in a report two weeks ago about the alleged pictures said a journalist had seen them, show the shots to prove there is any substance to the claims.
The TV4 report and a new book about another shady figure from Sweden's underworld alleged friends of the king had been willing to pay large sums of money to block the publication of pictures of the monarch in compromising situations.
One of the king's childhood friends, Ander Lettstroem, admitted in a statement last week he had contacted people involved with organised crime, but insisted it was purely his own initiative and had nothing to do with Carl XVI Gustaf.
In Monday's interview, the king reiterated a previous statement that he had no knowledge of Lettstroem's actions and had nothing to do with his confession.
"That he has been in contact with such people ... is not appropriate. That's something one could wish he had not done, I must say," he said, adding that "I have distanced myself completely from his actions and thereby also from our acquaintanceship."
He admitted the scandal had "of course hurt confidence in me, and even confidence in the monarchy and also Sweden."
"That is something I really regret, but it is something I will fix, and I will work double as hard in the future," he said.
The latest scandal comes just over six months after a tell-all biography of the king hit the bookstands, causing uproar with its descriptions of his participation in wild parties and affairs with young women.
The allegations also come shortly after the royal court announced the king's wife, German-born Queen Silvia, had launched a probe into her father's Nazi past.
When asked about claims in the book he had visited several specific strip clubs, the king on Monday was often on the defensive, responding repeatedly with "No," and "I have no idea."
Following the latest allegations, several polls have shown that a majority of Swedes would like the king to soon abdicate and hand over the throne to Crown Princess Victoria, who has long been far more popular than her father.
The king, who reached the official retirement age of 65 last month, reiterated Monday he has no plans to step aside in favour of his 33-year-old daughter.
"There is a tradition and custom and that is not what is going to happen," he said.