Foreign Minister called in for questioning

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Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre has been summoned to appear before the Parliament’s supervisory committee that handles disciplinary matters. It has decided to look into whether Støre violated any regulations when his ministry granted NOK 6 million to a foundation in northern Norway that’s linked to an old childhood friend, shipowner Felix Tschudi.

Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre of the Labour Party faces questioning by the Parliament's scrutiny committee. PHOTO: Arbeiderpartiet

Støre has repeatedly denied any suggestion he’s guilty of favouring Tschudi. Støre said he evaluated his impartiality when the funding was made, back in 2008, and decided there was no conflict.

Opposition politicians in the Parliament clearly have a different opinion, which is why its Sranding Committee on Scrutiny and Constitutional Affairs (Kontroll- og konstitutisjonskomité) has a few questions for Støre. He’s to appear before the committee on Monday May 7.

Støre has admitted that he and Tschudi are friends, but not close friends, and he can’t see that he’s done anything inappropriate. He has noted that the application for funding for the Kirkenes-based Center for High North Logistics came from the Norwegian Shipowners’ Foundation, not Tschudi Shipping, which provided a matching grant.

Others, however, question Støre’s judgment in the case, which also reportedly involved unusually quick processing of the foundation’s grant and raised questions over whether others were given an opportunity to apply for such funding.

The case has caught attention because Støre is among the most high-profile of Norway’s government ministers and a close ally of Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg. Both are from the Labour Party, and the case has also reportedly struck a nerve with the party itself, which wants to clear up the matter as quickly as possible.

Stoltenberg is standing by Støre, as expected. He told newspaper Dagsavisen on Thursday that it’s up to the scrutiny committee to evaluate how Støre handled the funding and whether any disciplinary action is in order. But he called it a “fundamental principle” that government ministers evaluate their impartiality themselves in concrete cases.

“Støre made that decision in 2008 and he stands by it still,” Stoltenberg said. “I have no basis to say Store handled this in error.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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