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Thursday, April 18, 2024

Prosecutors seek four-year prison term for mayor

State prosecutors declared in a court in Lillehammer on Thursday that the popular mayor of a small mountain community should spend four years in jail for repeatedly assaulting a young teenage girl. The mayor, who has had close ties to the highest ranks of the Labour Party, has admitted to being “shameful” but continues to deny the assault charges against him.

Rune Øygard, who is on fully paid leave from the mayor’s post that he’s held in Vågå since 1995, is charged with having sex with a minor over a period of two years and allegedly assaulting her as many as 50 times. The minimum jail term for those found guilty on such charges is two years, the maximum 10 years if he’s found guilty of assault while she was still 13 years old.

‘High degree of exploitation’
Prosecutor Thorbjørn Klundseter wants to double the minimum term. “I believe we must raise the minimum term,” Klundseter said as Øygard’s four-week trial drew to a close this week. “We’re talking about 40 to 50 assaults … the degree of exploitation here is high.” Klundseter also is demanding the Øygard pay all court costs on the grounds that he has “good personal economy.”

The trial has been full of lurid details about what many seemed to think was simply an unusually close relationship between Øygard and the now 17-year-old girl. It allegedly began when she was 13 and she stayed at Øygard’s home and cabin, often with his wife present and traveled extensively with the mayor. Øygard admitted they shared a double bed in hotel rooms, but only because the girl was insecure about sleeping alone.

Klundseter scoffed at that, claiming that Øygard took advantage of his powerful political position and connections within the Labour Party, along with the fact that the girl was having trouble at home. “It made it worse that he exploited a fascination she had for him, she was in love with him,” the prosecutor charged.

‘Unnatural’ relationship
He also doesn’t believe Øygard’s claims that there were no physical sexual relations between the two, although he admitted shame over evidence of sexually charged conversation. “Is there anyone who believes he kept his hands off the platter, when he is alone in the same bed with this girl?” Klundseter asked rhetorically in court. “How could he have spoken with her in that manner? He has had contact with her that confirms a romantic relationship between them.”

The prosecutor called evidence of text messages, Skype conversations and other contact between the two as “unnatural.”

Øygard’s defense attorney, meanwhile, repeated her claims that her client should be acquitted. She noted there is no physical evidence of physical sexual contact between the two, that the assaults described by the girl in court are “improbable” and that the prosecutor’s jail term proposal is “much too strict.”

Øygard has refused to resign his post as mayor despite requests from Labour Party officials that he do so. Under Norwegian law, elected officials can’t be forced out of office unless convicted. It’s unclear when the court will make a ruling in the case, which has embarrassed Labour and raised serious questions of political judgment by Øygard and others around him.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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