NEWS ANALYSIS: A state commission has decided to re-examine Norway’s most sensational spy saga ever, which resulted in the 1985 conviction of diplomat Arne Treholt. The case is once again shaking the nation, but concerns over Treholt’s fate seem secondary to worries that the integrity of Norway’s legal system is at stake.
Norwegian media has been full of stories all week involving the country’s most famous convicted spy and a string of allegations that the police investigation into his alleged spying at the time was less than above-board.
Many Norwegians may well have been wondering this week why the Treholt case, tried in the mid-1980s when the Cold War was still going on, is suddenly dominating the local news once again. The case is 25 years old, most statutes of limitations have expired, Treholt himself was ultimately released from prison and pardoned for health reasons, and since has become a wealthy businessman who told newspaper Aftenposten on Friday that he “still feels young and fine” and has no intention of retiring. He’s been living on Cyprus and is widely believed to be a millionaire.
So what’s to be gained by dredging up a painful case for Norway, when many legal experts still believe Treholt was guilty as charged? Treholt, who was a top diplomat when arrested in 1984, tried to get his case re-opened just two years ago and was turned down by the same commission that’s now reconsidering its decision. He’s earlier admitted to “doing some dumb things” during his diplomatic career, like associating with a top KGB official of the former Soviet Union while negotiating important issues for Norway, and accepting cash from foreign donors. Many Norwegians have little doubt that Treholt betrayed his country.
Now it seems the commission had no choice but to re-open the case, not necessarily because Treholt stands to be exonerated but because of serious questions that the police investigation that led to his arrest and conviction was terribly flawed if not illegal itself. As Helen Sæter, head of the commission (Gjenopptakelseskommisjonen), said a few days ago, “we can’t live with” the sorts of new allegations that have emerged. Bureaucrats, commentators and politicians from the left and the right also have urged a re-examination, in an effort to find out what really went on during the investigation that led to Treholt’s arrest.
Various people involved in it have been coming forward, 25 years after Treholt’s trial, to report manipulation of photographic evidence, illegal surveillance and other forms of fabrication. The parade of informants was led off by release of a new book called Forfalskningen, that alleged falsification of important evidence by police investigators.
Most of them are now protected from prosecution, because the statute of limitations has expired. Ørnulf Tofte, who led the investigation in the mid-1908s, is now 88 years old, denies any fabrication of the evidence and otherwise refuses further comment. Some of the men who worked for Tofte, however, tell a different story and claim they’re finally clearing their conscience by revealing examples of manipulated photos and false evidence of cash.
So what’s most to be gained by re-opening the Treholt case is the truth behind the police investigation and a public condemnation of any wrongdoing, to send a signal to today’s investigators that things like manipulation of evidence and illegal surveillance won’t be tolerated and will ultimately come back to haunt them.
Treholt himself, meanwhile, agreed to appear on major Scandinavian talk show Skavlan Friday evening, where he claims he’s been the victim of a travesty of justice. Also appearing for the taping of the show in Stockholm on Thursday was former Norwegian Justice Minister and crime writer Anne Holt, who reportedly told Treholt to his face that she thinks his conviction was correct and that he let his country down.
“But if (the charges of false evidence) that have come forward are true,” she added according to Aftenposten’s account of the taping, “Norway has let you down.”
Commission members planned to start their work over the weekend. It was unclear when they might make a decision on whether the Treholt case should go back to court.