Mayor goes public with assault charge

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A mayor for the Labour Party in the mountain community of Vågå, Oppland County, has gone public with the sexual assault charges filed against him last week. He decided that it was best to avoid speculation, and claims he’s innocent.

Norwegian news media rarely identify persons involved in criminal offenses until there’s been a conviction, and parties in sexual assault cases are almost never identified. Debate erupted last week, though, when a Member of Parliament for the conservative Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, Frp) was caught visiting a brothel while on a weekend trip to Latvia, thus breaking a Norwegian law against buying sex in Norway or abroad.

News had already broken that a mayor in Oppland County was facing sexual assault charges, but neither his name nor party affiliation were mentioned. That led to strong criticism of the news media not least from Progress Party leaders, who complained that their party is often treated differently than Norway’s other parties. Progress Party leader Siv Jensen, just back from a holiday in Greece, joined her fellow party officials in noting what she sees as a double standard. Neither Jensen nor her colleagues condoned what their MP had done, and said all violations of the law are serious, but they couldn’t understand why their politician and party were identified when the identities of both were withheld in the Oppland case.

Now the mayor involved has gone public himself. Rune Øygard, a Labour Party veteran and close associate of Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, allowed a top township official in Vågå, Tor Arne Gangsø, to issue a press release confirming that Øygard has been charged with sexual assault against a girl now aged 15 and that police are investigating.

“Among other things, he wanted to avoid speculation, and he’s stepping forward to confirm what many already knew,” Gangsø told news bureau NTB. “He also believes he’s not guilty and that it was therefore okay to come forward.”

Øygard, who was first elected mayor of Vågå in 1995, also believes that he won’t be indicted. The girl and her family filed charges against Øygard a week-and-a-half ago and Øygard was arrested but later released after questioning. Police said the case involves one incident of alleged assault in 2009, when the girl was 13 years old.

Labour Party officials including Stoltenberg, who had eaten dinner with Øygard the night before he was arrested, have called the charges againt Øygard “very serious” and said they were awaiting results of the police investigation. Øygard has since taken out sick leave, at least through next week.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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