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Monday, May 23, 2022

Court sentences ex-mayor to jail

Rune Øygard, once a popular and powerful mayor for Norway’s ruling Labour Party, was sentenced to 15 months in jail on Thursday for sexual assault against a girl from the time she was 14 to 16 years old. Øygard was also ordered to pay compensation to the girl and a portion of court costs for his local- and appeals court trials.

Rune Øygard has been a respected member of the Labour Party for many years, but now his political career seems to be over. PHOTO: Arbeiderpartiet
Rune Øygard had been a respected member of the Labour Party for many years, until he was charged and now convicted twice of sexual assault against a minior. PHOTO: Arbeiderpartiet

Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported from the appeals court in Hamar that Øygard, age 54, was ordered to pay NOK 120,000 (just over USD 20,000) in damages to the now-17-year-old girl. She was widely known to be Øygard’s companion since she was 13 years old. In 2011, she filed charges against Øygard, claiming she’d long been the target of sexual assault and had felt forced to have sexual relations with him for nearly three years.

The case has attracted massive media coverage in Norway, not least since Øygard was once a respected and powerful politician for  the Labour Party and had been a mentor to Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg. Both Stoltenberg and party officials distanced themselves from Øygard, however, when his trial began and he initially refused to give up his mayor’s post in the mountain community of Vågå. He has consistently denied guilt in the case.

Questions have arisen as to why neither party officials, fellow politicians in Vågå nor others in positions of authority questioned the relationship between Øygard and the girl, who has not been publicly identified. She often traveled with him on official business and even was known to have met both Stoltenberg and other high-ranking government leaders while with Øygard in Oslo.

Øygard portrayed his relationship to her as akin to being a “reserve father,” claiming she otherwise had a troubled relationship with her own parents and thus spent a lot of time with Øygard and his wife Reidun, who have no children of their own. Øygard’s wife remained loyal to her husband and testified on his behalf during his trials, as did other family members and associates,.

Øygard has admitted to some “inappropriate” behaviour, especially when copies of sexually charged Skype conversations, text messages and other correspondence between the two were recovered and presented in court. The panel of appeals court judges remarked on Thursday that Øygard and the girl communicated with each other “like partners,” and seemed to be “strongly fascinated by each other.”

The court believed the prosecution had proved there were several incidents of sexual intercourse between the two. A central part of his conviction, according to the judges, was that the defendant “had sexual contact with a child under the age of 16. He achieved that because the child was in love with him. He got her to believe that they had a normal relationship as a couple.”

The 37-year age difference between the two ,and the risk that the girl would become pregnant, worsened the case against Øygard, the judges ruled. The judges rejected Øygard’s defense attorney’s claim that he should receive milder punishment because of the media glare he has suffered.

NRK reported that Øygard stared down at the table where he sat while his conviction and sentencing were read. He shook his head on several occasions, in line with his contention that never assaulted the girl.

Prosecutors had asked for a prison term of two-and-a-half years but refused to describe the court sentencing of just over half that as a defeat. Øygard’s defense attorney had asked for no more than 10 months in jail for her client. Both sides can appeal, but it’s unclear whether Norway’s Supreme Court would agree to hear the case.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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