Embattled mayor goes back on leave

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Trude Drevland, the embattled mayor of Bergen, has opted to take unpaid leave right in the middle of the municipal election campaign, after prosecutors decided Monday to reopen an investigation into whether she misused her position as mayor in connection with a cruiseship christening. Drevland remains the Conservatives’ candidate for re-election as mayor.

Bergen Mayor Trude Drevland hasn't had much reason to smile lately, and on Monday she went on unpaid leave pending a new police investigation over alleged abuse of office. PHOTO: Wikipedia Commons/Nina Aldin Thune

Bergen Mayor Trude Drevland hasn’t had much reason to smile lately, and on Monday she went on unpaid leave pending a new police investigation over alleged abuse of office. PHOTO: Wikipedia Commons/Nina Aldin Thune

In a press release issued Monday night by Hordaland Høyre, the local chapter of the Conservative Party, it was stated that Drevland’s permission will last until the new police investigation is completed. Drevland herself stated that she didn’t want the investigation to “get in the way of the important election campaign the party is conducting. Therefore I will go on leave while the police make their evaluation.”

At issue is whether Drevland is guilty of a conflict of interest or party to influence peddling after she accepted a lavish fully-paid trip to Venice for the launch of a new luxury cruiseship owned by Norwegian shipowner Torstein Hagen. Drevland also had accepted a fully paid cruise on board the vessel for herself and a lady friend, valued at NOK 100,000 but later canceled the trip. The shipowner also paid for Drevland and her son to fly on a private jet and stay in a top hotel in Venice, and she’s been accused of later misusing her position as mayor to the advantage of the shipowning company, Viking Cruises, when she christened the vessel as part of Bergen’s 17th of May festivies on Norway’s Constitution Day.

Police had initially dropped its investigation but announced Monday it would reopen it after several legal experts had complained that the case should be pursued. “After the case was dropped, new information has surfaced along with new claims in the media,” Bergen Police Chief John Reidar Nilsen told state broadcaster NRK. That’s the background for why I have asked the state prosecutor to evaluate the case.” The prosecutor later agreed to do so.

Drevland had tearfully gone on paid sick leave just before the summer holidays, after the initial police investigation. She returned to work, and her re-election campaign about a month ago but now is back under investigation. Drevland has claimed all along that she only has acted in Bergen’s best interests but apologized for poor judgment in accepting the shipowners’ generosity.

The case comes also as Drevland, long a popular mayor in Bergen, has seen her husband ordered to serve jail time in another unrelated case. “It’s been a tough round for Trude, and we think it’s admirable that she is most concerned that Høyre’s politics should be the focus of the election campaign,” said the party’s county secretary Charlotte Spurkeland.

The party and Drevland are hoping the investigation “will proceed as quickly as possible,” Spurkeland said. The election looms in just two weeks, on September 14.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund