A high-ranking member of Norway’s conservative Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, Frp) was under arrest on Tuesday, charged with sexual misconduct towards a young male member of the party. Party leader Siv Jensen said she was saddened by the charges, but relieved the suspect immediately resigned from all his posts.
The party official under arrest, Trond Birkedal, not only was one of Jensen’s trusted advisers but also the party’s candidate for mayor in Stavanger. “We are all in shock,” Terje Halleland, county leader for the Progress Party in Rogaland, told the website for newspaper Stavanger Aftenblad.
Jensen initially declined comment, but told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) Tuesday afternoon that she was “disappointed and very sad” over the charges facing Birkedal.
“I am first and foremost appalled by the case, and my thoughts go to all those who are affected by it,” Jensen told NRK. “It’s good that he has withdrawn from all his responsibilities within the party, and that police are now investigating. I can only say I am disappointed and very sad.”
She asked for understanding that it otherwise was “difficult” for her to comment on the case, not least while the investigation into Birkedal’s conduct was ongoing.
He was taken into custody Sunday, charged with sexual misconduct towards a 19-year-old member of the party from Oslo who had stayed in Birkedal’s home while visiting in Stavanger. The young man has charged that Birkedal secretly filmed him while he was naked in Birkedal’s bathroom.
“I feel really abused,” the young man, who joined the party at the age of 14 and quickly came in contact with Birkedal, told newspaper VG. “He filmed me naked. I feel an enormous anger and hate towards him.” He said he had seen the video that was taken without his knowledge, and believed Birkedal had secretly filmed others as well. Police have seized Birkedal’s computer.
Birkedal quickly resigned from all his posts within the party, leaving the party to find a new candidate for mayor within the next nine days, to meet deadlines set in connection with local elections in the fall. Birkedal, a party veteran, had topped the local party’s lists.
It wasn’t immediately confirmed whether other victims were involved but police suggested charges would be expanded. “There is reason to believe the charges will be expanded to apply to other persons,” prosecutor Fredrik Martin Soma of the Rogaland Police District, told NRK.
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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