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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Mayor ‘shameful’ but denies any illegalities, fights to clear his name

A prominent Labour Party mayor who’s accused of sexual assault of an underage girl admitted in court on Thursday that he’s “shameful” he “crossed the limit” in some of the contact with her, but he insists he has”never seen her naked, I have never had the sexual contact this case is about. I have been naive, but I don’t want to be convicted, I don’t want to be put in prison for something I haven’t done.”

Rune Øygard, a Labour Party veteran whom Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg has referred to as a “mentor,” has also been the popular mayor of the scenic mountain community of Vågå since 1995. He’s been on sick leave since last fall, when a now-16-year-old girl and her family filed police charges against him, claiming he had assaulted her over a period of two years.

She has spent the past few days testifying against him since his trial opened in Lillehammer on Tuesday. The case is sensational in Norway because of the public figures it involves, and is getting wide media coverage as details of the alleged relationship between the married mayor and the young teenager emerge in court.

Broke down under questioning
On Wednesday she continued to describe the many trips she had with Øygard in which she also met some of the highest-ranking persons in Norwegian society including the president of the Norwegian Parliament, Stoltenberg on several occasions and other top politicians and officials. She also said she was served alcohol when she and Øygard were alone. She claims that after the first alleged assault at his holiday cabin in Måløy, the 36-year-old mayor both impressed, hosted and controlled her.

She has contradicted herself regarding details of their alleged sexual encounters, however, and broke down under questioning by Øygard’s defense attorney, the high-profile lawyer Mette Yvonne Larsen. Øygard himself denies all the allegations of physical sexual relations but admits they became “tied to each other, she was very open with me and share her feelings with me.”

‘Needed contact’
He said both he and his wife were concerned about her because she seemed to need so much contact, also that she was preoccupied with sexuality. “I should have refrained from speaking with her about that, I was very uncertain,” Øygard stressed, not least because he was inexperienced in dealing with youth because he and his wife have no children.

Øygard testified that he and his wife had talked with one another about how tight their contact had become with the girl, who was the daughter of acquaintances. “My wife thought it was becoming a bit much,” Øygard said. “At the same time, we saw that she became more secure and she gave us a lot.”

He told the court, though, that listening to her testimony and charges against him “was like listening to something from a novel. I have spent a lot of time thinking about how I could be accused of something like this, and how I could be prosecuted.” He also gave entirely different versions of how they met and who initiated contact than she had earlier in the week.

Dozens of witnesses will be called over the four weeks the trial is due to run. Meanwhile, Øygard and his wife were under police protection Thursday after two young men threatened them upon leaving the courthouse on Wednesday. The men were later questioned and told newspaper Dagbladet that they were merely trying to express their support for the girl, not to threaten Øygard.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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