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Thursday, April 18, 2024

‘Gangsters’ threaten Oslo nightlife

Threats, violence and extortion attempts have become a professional liability for bars, restaurants and nightclubs in the Norwegian capital. As many as 15 local nightspots have been targeted by what one prosecutor calls “gangsters” in recent years, in an apparent bid by foreign criminals to gain control over Oslo’s nightlife.

Newspaper Aftenposten reported over the weekend that several targets of the so-called “mafia methods” now fear for their lives even though police have tried to nip the problem in the bud.

Familiar methods
Prosecutor Øyvind Havnevik of the Oslo Police District doesn’t hesitate to call the offenders “gangsters.” He told Aftenposten that they’ve used methods familiar in other countries.

“We’re not sure just how organized these cases are,” said Havnevik, adding that police think “this form of extortion in nightlife ceased after we took action.”

The victims aren’t so sure and many remain traumatized by the so-called gangsters, many from eastern Europe and western Asia, who generally try to “fine” people running restaurants and clubs or even simply working in them. If the sums they demand for alleged offenses are not paid, the victim can be threatened repeatedly.

Trumped-up offenses
Reasons given for the so-called fines (bøter, in Norwegian) can be trivial. However the people making them are usually heavily built, convicted felons and often work along with others in order to frighten the victim. Assaults are common, according to Aftenposten.

Police tried to crack down after some victims overcame their fears and told police what was going on. Four men have since been convicted by an Oslo court for extortion, attempted extortion and assault.

All claim they are innocent and three of the four have appealed sentences handed down in April. They include a 32-year-old man from Iraq, a 54-year-old man from Macedonia and a 32-year-old man from Kosovo. A 31-year-old man from Bosnia-Hercegovina accepted his 90-day jail term, 50 days of which were suspended. A 29-year-old Pakistani-Norwegian was also charged but fled.

‘Good job’
The court awarded two of their victims compensation totalling NOK 90,000 (USD 14,000) each, while a third person received NOK 30,000.

They still don’t feel especially secure, however, not least because of relatively short jail terms and additional threats from the defendants that they’ll seek revenge when released. At least one victim told Aftenposten he now often wears a bullet-proof vest, carries an alarm to alert police if he finds himself threatened and carries pepper spray to defend himself.

The convictions address “only a fraction of the extortion that has been carried out by various gangs,” André Aasheim, a former bouncer who now runs his own security firm, called Public Security Oslo A/S, told Aftenposten. The gangsters, he said,  “hand out ‘fines’ indiscriminately. Some victims choose to pay. This sort of thing will happen again.”

At the moment, though, Aasheim  said he thinks the situation has calmed down. “The police, he said,  “have done a good job.”

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