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Thursday, April 18, 2024

Sex scandal threatens Progress Party

Leaders of one of Norway’s biggest political parties,  the conservative Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, Frp), were huddling in crisis meetings as a sex scandal involving one of their high-profile colleagues continued to spread. The credibility of the party’s top leadership was at stake, as reports circulated that they knew about their colleague’s alleged sexual misconduct, and did nothing about it to protect him as a party “wonderboy.”

It's unclear how much Siv Jensen knew about her trusted adviser's sexual proclivities. PHOTO: Fremskrittspartiet

Party leader Siv Jensen initially refused to comment on Sunday’s arrest of one her most trusted advisers, Trond Birkedal, who faces serious charges of sexual misconduct. Then she said she was “disappointed and sad” about it, but subsequently has refused to comment further.

Birkedal, age 31, had been a rising star within the party, heading up its youth division and, most recently, being the party’s candidate for mayor of Stavanger. He resigned from all party posts after his arrest on charges that he secretly filmed a young male member of the party while the man was staying in Birkedal’s home and naked in Birkedal’s bathroom.

Charges expanded, to sex with a minor
The charges against Birkedal were expanded  on Wednesday to include sexual relations with a child under the age of 16, a violation of Norwegian law. It’s also believed his secret filming included as many as six other male party members although police won’t specify a number. Birkedal remained in police custody on Thursday, jailed for at least two weeks with restrictions on visitors and communication.

Sex scandals within Norwegian political parties are relatively rare, and Progress Party secretary general Geir Mo told newspaper Dagsavisen that the party as a rule refrains from getting involved with its members’ personal relations. “There’s always rumors in any organization about people’s sexual preferences and who’s having relations with who,” Mo told Dagsavisen. “But that doesn’t prompt any investigation from us.”

Asked whether he or other party leaders had received reports about Birkedal’s activities, Mo said “we won’t say anything specific about Birkedal.” He noted that it wouldn’t be up to the party to report any alleged illegalities to the police, but rather the alleged victims themselves.

‘Had prior knowledge’
That ‘s what ultimately happened, leading to Birkedal’s arrest on Sunday. The issue now is whether Birkedal exploited his position as leader of the party’s youth organization (FpU) and why party leaders failed to prevent it.

The lawyer for one of the plaintiffs, who was 15 when Birkedal allegedly had sex with him, told TV2 Wednesday evening that the party’s top leadership have known about the incident for a long time. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) also reported that members of the party’s youth organization have known Birkedal had sex with a minor for the past three years. No one reported the matter to police because of fear for Birkedal.

“The party leadership must have known about Trond Birkedal’s high consumption of young boys for the past two years,” one Frp politician told Dagsavisen. “This has been a topic of conversation within the central party organization.”

Birkedal’s defense attorney said her client was troubled by the charges against him but accepted them. He has not entered any pleas of guilt or innocence yet, but denies having had sex with a minor.

Birkedal was part of the party’s top leadership himself, prompting speculation that his close ties to other party leaders made it difficult for them to take the charges against him seriously.

The Progress Party has ranked several times during the past year as Norway’s largest political party, although it has slipped in recent public opinion polls. It has been widely viewed as a serious contender for government power, in cooperation with the Conservative Party (Høyre), in the next national elections, with Siv Jensen a candidate for prime minister.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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