Prosecutors fight early prison release

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Kjell Aldrich Schumann, who had a long criminal record before he was convicted as a mastermind of Norway’s largest currency heist ever, claimed in a Trondheim courtroom this week that he’s “a new person” now and should be released early from prison. His plea comes at a time when prosecutors are trying to stiffen Norway’s custody rules and prevent criminals from being released too soon.

Schumann ultimately confessed to being the robber in the commando-style NOKAS heist nine years ago who also shot and killed a veteran Stavanger police officer during an ensuing gun battle on the street. He still claims he has no idea what became of around NOK 50 million (USD 8 million) in cash that was stolen from NOKAS’ Stavanger currency depot.

Dramatic, with ties to Munch theft
The NOKAS robbery during the Easter week of 2004 still ranks as the most dramatic in Norwegian history, and to stymie the police investigation of it, some of the robbers involved also engineered the shocking theft of the Edvard Munch paintings Scream and Madonna from the Munch Museum in Oslo just four months later. They later admitted, after finally being arrested, that they needed to overwhelm Norwegian police with another major theft case, to keep them off their trail.

The NOKAS gang of robbers was ultimately arrested, but most of the cash they stole was never recovered. Prosecutors are convinced that Schumann, who has a record of earlier felonies, knows where the money is but refuses to go along with suggestions that he return it.

Prosecutor Tormod Haugnes scoffed in court at Schumann’s claim he was “a new person” and ready to leave behind his life of crime. “He says he doesn’t know the (NOKAS) money is, and that he doesn’t want his intended share of it,” Haugnes said in court. “Of course he does. He was central in the planning and implementation of the robbery. You don’t take such risks and face serving long prison terms without knowing where the stash is. He clearly knows where it is, and he wants his share.”

Verbal assault
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that Schumann’s defense attorney responded with a verbal assault of his own, claiming that Haugnes had no evidence to back up his claims, and that it was impossible for his client to defend himself from such.

Norway is known for its relatively lenient punishment of criminals, but Schumann was sentenced to one of the country’s harsher terms: 16 years of forvaring, a special form of custody meant to protect the public from dangerous criminals. The sentence carried with it a minimum term of 10 years, but Schumann is asserting his right to request early release for good behaviour. Prosecutors are arguing strongly against it, saying that it’s far too early to let a man like Schumann out on the streets again. Even his defense attorney admitted that he can understand the opposition to Schumann’s request, which has received broad media coverage the past week.

“I understand that the first thing to go through people’s heads is ‘that police murderer? It’s wrong to release him, he killed a policeman,'” Schumann’s defense attorney Fredrik Schøne Brodwall said in court. “But I believe the conditions for his release are in place. The police must prove that that he still represents a danger to society. Any doubt must benefit Kjell Alrich Schumann.” His family has also testified on his behalf, saying they are ready to given him a new chance. He hasn’t been found to have any psychiatric problems.

Attempts to toughen eligibility for release
The entire debate over the NOKAS convict comes as Riksadvokaten, the state prosecutor’s office, is proposing that Norway’s current maximum period of mandatory custody before eligibility for parole (10 years, as in Schumann’s case) be raised to 14 years. As crime rates have risen in Norway, prosecutors seem to realize that prison terms are too short at present. They want to extend the period before a convict is eligible for parole, and they seem to have political support.

Schumann, meanwhile, claims he’s been through a “maturing process” and that he’s “not proud of what he’s done in the past … but that’s in the past. I have another stance now.” Prosecutors don’t believe it, stressing that Schumann has never earlier shown regret for his robberies and violent acts, which have had fatal consequences.

The court in Trondheim was expected to rule on Schumann’s request for release from prison on Monday. Any reform of current parole requirements isn’t expected until well into next year.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund