The mayor of the scenic community of Vågå in the mountains of Oppland County was indicted Thursday on charges he sexually assaulted a girl under the age of 14 several times over a period of two years. Rune Øygard of the Labour Party faces a prison term as long as 15 years.
Øygard, who’s been a fairly high-ranking figure within the party and a friend of Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, has denied he’s guilty of the assaults since they were first reported shortly after last fall’s municipal elections. Police have been investigating ever since, though, and state prosecutors for the counties of Oppland and Hedmark opted to indict Øygard on charges described as “very serious.”
Øygard, age 59, has been accused of having sex with the girl on several occasions between October 2009 and September 2011, from when she was 13 to 15, at various locations including his home, his holiday cabin and several hotels.
Prosecutor Thorbjørn Klundseter declined to detail the evidence that led to the indictment but said it was based on both declarations of witnesses and technical evidence. ”When we hand down an indictment, it means we are convinced that this case can be proven in court,” Klundseter told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK).
The girl is a member of the Labour Party’s youth organization and her attorney, Nina Braathen Hjortdal, was satisfied by the indictment. ”I’m glad there’s finally been an indictment,” Hjortdal told NRK. “I haven’t had a chance to speak with my client yet, but I’m sure she’s glad as well.”
Øygard’s defense attorney, on the other hand, said she was surprised by the indictment. “We’re surprised the police and prosecutors have evaluated their evidence as enough to hand down an indictment,” Mette Yvonne Larsen told NRK. She claimed Øygard was looking forward to clearing his name in court.
“He’s not happy such a serious criminal case has been filed against him,” Larsen said. “But he thinks it’s better to clear himself than to live with these complaints.”
Øygard has told media on earlier occasions that he’s been astonished by charges that are “so degrading, so disgusting and brutal” and has claimed he’s “never done anything like them, that’s not me. This is unreal.”
He told newspaper VG that he had wholehearted support from his wife Reidun, and that’s helped him face the charges. “I have never cried so much in my whole life as I have the past few weeks,” he told VG in November. The girl, he said, had been like a member of their family and they took her on holidays and went traveling together.
He went on sick leave when the charges were first filed in September, and has been relieved of his mayoral duties in Vågå. Øygard and his wife have been living with friends in Oslo and at a cabin in western Norway because they couldn’t face social life in Vågå despite what they describe as “massive support” from friends and acquaintances.
“When this is over, I want to return as mayor,” Øygard told VG. “I haven’t done anything wrong.” Labour Party hadn’t decided whether Øygard would be suspended, saying it was up to the court to decide the case.
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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