One of Norway’s wealthiest shipping families is suing the butler that served the family matriarch for more than 10 years, charging that he helped himself to her bank accounts and now must return NOK 5.4 million (nearly USD 1 million). The case has attracted media attention not least because it reveals unusual insight into the lifestyle, finances and conflicts of an upper-class Norwegian family in a staunchly egalitarian society.
Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) has reported this week on how Thomas Wassdal, age 32, denies any wrongdoing, saying he worked night and day for the now-87-year-old Anette Skaugen, widow of the late shipowner Brynjulf Skaugen, for the past 12 years. While Wassdal is referred to as Skaugen’s butler, he’s also described as a personal servant who was on duty nearly around the clock.
The two developed a close relationship and at one point, reported DN, the elder Skaugen made Wassdal an heir after her family-owned company lent him nearly NOK 3 million to buy an apartment in Oslo. The plan, reported DN, was that his inheritance would pay off his mortgage in gratitude for his many years of service.
Her children claim they were surprised to learn that Wassdal had also withdrawn as much as NOK 1.3 million from Skaugen’s bank account in 2011, after Anette Skaugen moved to a nursing home. They hired former police chief and private investigator Finn Abrahamsen to look into the bank account activity, and now claim Wassdal used their mother’s bank card to pay expensive nightclub and restaurant bills and for various purchases, including some at the exclusive Louis Vuitton store in Oslo.
Skaugen’s attorney Håvard Sandnes told DN that she reacted badly to news of the bank account activity and wanted Wassdal stricken as an heir. He claims the former butler also used her money to fix up his own apartment.
As the case played out in an Oslo courtroom this week, Wassdal attributed his withdrawals from Skaugen’s bank account to his need to pay for food, cleaning services and extra personnel when she held parties. He claimed that taking care of Anette Skaugen was like “taking care of a child,” demanding his full attention at all times. He acknowledged receiving a bonus of NOK 60,000 for staying with Skaugen at her holiday home on the island of Tjøme durng the summers of 2008 and 2009, but testified that it was no holiday for him, and that “when I got a bonus, I had earned it.”
Wassdal has received support from well-known Norwegian financier Jan Petter Sissener, who also has employed Wassdal and testified on his behalf. Sissener believes Wassdal has deserved all the compensation he felt entitled to receive.
“He did everything for her (Skaugen), it was a big job,” Sissener said in court. He’s a long-time friend of the Skaugen family but claimed Anette Skaugen wasn’t cheated and had agreed to pay for Wassdal’s apartment. “He was her personal servant. It wasn’t easy,” Sissener said.
Skaugen’s late husband Brynjulf was an heir to Norway’s IM Skaugen shipping firm that was an initial founder of Royal Caribbean Cruise Line (RCCL) in addition to its other shipowning operations. Brynjulf and his brother Morits later sold off their stake in RCCL and divided its billions in proceeds and the company itself between their two families, fearing that their children wouldn’t get along in running the firm together. Brynjulf’s family thus set up B Skaugen Shipping, mostly consisting of cash and operations that were not stocklisted.
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
Please support our news service. Readers in Norway can use our donor account. Our international readers can click on our “Donate” button: