Convicted Cold War spy Arne Treholt has told the Norwegian media that he is considering a number of options for having his case re-opened, after Norway’s Criminal Cases Review Commission rejected his application to have the near 30-year-old conviction taken up again in court. Meanwhile, bitter recriminations have already begun among Treholt’s supporters, the police and the media in the fallout of yesterday’s decision.
Treholt was sentenced to 20 years in prison for spying for the Soviet Union and Iraq in 1985, and served several years of the sentence before being pardoned for health reasons in 1992, after which he moved to Cyprus. A reopening of his case had already been rejected in 2008, but was taken up again by the commission last year after new claims regarding alleged fabrication of evidence were put forward in a book and local news media.
Three further routes – including Strasbourg
Treholt has told the media, including Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK), that he feels he has three further routes in which he pursue efforts to clear his name: Launching a civil case against the Norwegian government (and against named individuals in the security services), putting the issue before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, or taking the commission’s decision to court. There is no appeal mechanism within the commission process itself.
The latter option would be based on an interpretation of the commission as a public administrative body rather than a court in and of itself. The head of the commission, Helen Sæter, admitted that it would be possible to do this because the commission’s decision was a public administrative decision, and therefore the validity of that decision-making process could be tried in court. Eyvind Smith, a professor of public law, nonetheless told NRK that it did not matter which interpretation one used regarding the commission’s nature, as the High Court would always be the court of last instance under the constitution.
Smith also told NRK that bringing the original judgment before the European Court of Human Rights was impossible because it was too old. Nevertheless, the professor suggested there are many different ways to find a basis on which to bring cases to Strasbourg. Smith made it clear that “all legal avenues in Norway must first be exhausted” before the issue reaches the European level.
Criticism of the commission itself has already come pouring in from a number of sources. Treholt’s lawyer, Harald Stabell – who was once a member of the the commission – told NRK that the decision did “not meet expectations,” and described it as “a sad day for the rule of law.” He claimed that they had weighted evidence from participating police officers as more important than other sources. Furthermore, he suggested that the commission may “have broken Norwegian law by not fulfilling its mandate.”
The author of the book Forfalskningen – politiets løgn i Treholt-saken (“The forgery – the police’s lies in the Treholt case”), which reignited the case last year – was particularly critical of the commission’s interviewing process, in which only 18 of the original 50 police officers involved in surveillance of Treholt’s home at the time were questioned. Defending the process, commission leader Sæter said that only one of these 18 officers had made claims about the falsification of evidence. But author Geir Selvik Malthe-Sørenssen, speaking to NRK, described the commission as “naive to believe that police surveillance services (Politiets overvåkningstjeneste, POT) people would tell the truth” after they had been accused of “keeping the truth hidden” in many cases over the past 25 years.
‘Did not want the truth’
Malthe-Sørensen claimed to NRK that Sæter had either lied or not read all the documents concerned, and that he did not know “which of those was worst.” He also claimed that the police officers who were interviewed generally received softer questioning, and that the only police officers that received “critical questions” were those “who warned of a possible violation” or had raised their own criticism of the handling of the case. Commenting on this issue, Sæter responded that “we have questioned those that we believe can cast light over the case, and we do not think there has been anything left undiscovered here.”
Much of the debate around reopening the case hinged on photographic evidence that a piece of tape could be seen on Treholt’s suitcase (in which he was alleged to have kept money from the Soviet Union) after his arrest and not before, suggesting that it had been tampered with. The commission was unconvinced by this, and also rejected two reports by British security firms that supported Treholt’s defense team, favouring instead officially commissioned reports from the Danish and Swedish police. Malthe-Sørenssen suggested that Sæter and her colleagues had been wrong to overlook the British reports, and to “cut the opportunities for a confrontation between the different experts” who had given different opinions on the new evidence, something which the defense had repeatedly demanded. “That demonstrates that she did not want to have the truth on the table,” the author added. In response to the claims that she had rejected photographic evidence and other key sources from Malthe-Sørensen’s book, Sæter pointed to the fact that many of “the apparent sources for the book have not identified themselves.”
Legal threats and demands for apologies
Malthe-Sørensen and the publishers of his book had also been threatened with legal action by the former head of the POT, Leif Karsten Hansen, if the case was not reopened. The book claims that Hansen was involved in falsifying evidence. The former police officer told NRK after the commission’s decision that he was considering his options further. The author himself said he would welcome the opportunity to “test the evidence we have put forward in the book,” adding that the case would be “very interesting.” The owner of the book’s publishers, Publicom, has also previously said that he does not fear having the evidence revealed in the book tested in court.
Meanwhile, the head of the heavily criticized Police Security Service (Politiets sikkerhetstjeneste, PST) was deeply critical of both Treholt’s supporters and the media for the “strain” the allegations of fabrication had placed on the agency, which is “dependent on confidence.” The agency was responsible for much of the original work involved in securing a conviction against Treholt. Speaking to newspaper Dagbladet, PST leader Janne Kristiansen demanded an apology from “the author of the book, Stabell and the others that have been involved in this.” She later told newspaper Aftenposten that they had been “led astray” in their extensive coverage of the issue. “You have a lot to fix,” she continued, “but our employees are cleared by the commission unequivocally.” Discussing a number of instances in both Aftenposten and other areas of the Norwegian press, she said “you must, as journalists, look inside yourselves in order to look at what you have believed in this case”. She suggested that “such cases must be written about in a way that keeps the result open.”
In response, Malthe-Sørensen told NRK that Kristiansen “can forget an apology from us,” and further suggested that “she should instead concentrate on an internal clean up in the PST” for which there is “a real need.”
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