Key suspects reject Nordea fraud guilt

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Several of the five suspects in the Nordea fraud case, one of the biggest such cases in Norwegian history, began answering questions in an Oslo court on Thursday.

The suspects are charged with fraudulently obtaining NOK 89 million (USD 16.4 million) from the Nordea bank account of one of Norway’s richest women, Randi Nilsen, last year. Three of the five are being charged under Norwegian law’s “Mafia paragraph,” which applies to cases involving organized crime syndicates. NOK 60 million (USD 11 million) is still missing.

Repeated phone contact
A 50 year-old woman, who is alleged to have entered a Nordea bank with a man posing as Nilsen in order to obtain permission to access her account, was on the witness stand in court on Thursday. Newspaper VG reports that she claims that she cannot remember many of the details of her contact with a 49 year-old male suspect. She admitted in both police questioning and in court that she had first met the man in 2009, after which she met him on a number of occasions in 2010.

She says she cannot remember phone conversations with the man that the police have evidence took place in and around the fraud itself, which occurred on 20 July. Traffic data also shows that the woman and men met a number of times after the alleged fraud took place. The woman claims that the only thing they discussed at these meetings was “child raising.” She said she was also “not sure” if she had met him on 26 July, when traffic data showed that they had had a telephone conversation when they had been in the same area as one another. She blamed “family problems” experienced over the summer for making her unsure of the details.

Mobile phone pictures
Mobile phone data also suggests that the 50 year-old woman and 49 year-old man met on 16 July in Tveita, where the Nordea branch is located. The woman claims that she slept for a long time that day and took a metro train to the center of Oslo. Police have evidence from traffic data that she sent a text message from her telephone at 10:00 before having her phone registered at Tveita, but the woman said she “could not explain this” and cannot “completely remember if I was on the metro.” Her phone was then registered at Oslo City shopping centre at 11:03 before being registered again at Tveita at 11:30. Prosecutor Carl Graff Hartmann informed the court that the metro timetable would not fit with this pattern, and that the registration station at Tveita was further away from the metro than many others, meaning that she could not have been registered there while passing by on a train. “I cannot explain that,” the woman said.

In addition, police claim that they found two mobile telephone pictures of the woman on the 49 year-old’s computer, although the women rejects that they are her despite being able to “see that it is similar.” According to VG, she has now pleaded partial guilt but will not say in what way she is partly guilty.

One already convicted
The 49 year-old man has also admitted partial guilt and would not answer what he was partly guilty of either, although newspaper Aftenposten had reported the day before that his lawyer had said that he was not aware of any organized criminal group behind the fraud. This would appear to mean that he does not admit guilt under the “Mafia paragraph.” The man was reported by VG to have said in court that it was a “fantasy” that he had any relationship to the NOK 89 million. He could not tell the judge how much he originally thought would be involved in the fraud.

One man, Lars-Erik Martinsen, has already been sentenced for four years and 10 months for his part in the fraud, but will not disclose who he dealt with in planning the crime. He accompanied the 50 year-old woman into the Nordea branch when the crime was carried out.

Two other suspects also in court
A 33 year-old male Nordea employee that allegedly allowed the woman to pose as Nilsen was also in court on Thursday. He claims not to have any connection with the fraud, although he has admitted to knowing one of the other suspects’ family members well. He claimed in court that he did not realize that the woman’s bank ID was falsified. Nordea had two photos on file for Nilsen, and the accused former employee claims that he used one from 2007 that is black and white, and therefore not as clear as another picture taken in 1991. He also said that he did not remember searching for Nilsen’s file on Nordea’s computer system, despite police evidence that he did so a number of times before the crime itself took place.

Another of the accused, a 35 year-old man, was also questioned in court today, with broadcaster TV2 reporting that he admitted to having made a living from crime for a number of years. He claims to have been involved in criminal activity with Lars-Erik Martinsen that explains the contact between the two around the time the crime took place, although he rejected that they were “close friends” despite that fact that there is evidence that they had twice daily contact during the period. Police also have evidence that he was in contact with the 49 year-old man, but the 35 year-old says that this was about loaning a car.

In addition to the five people now in court and Lars-Erik Martinsen, a seventh suspect living in Dubai is also believed to have been involved in the plot.

Views and News from Norway/Aled-Dilwyn Fisher
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