The colourful, popular and often parodied mayor of Bergen, Trude Drevland, has called in sick, claiming she needs some time to collect her thoughts after being challenged over her role as godmother of a new cruiseship. After its owner covered all expenses for a luxurious trip to launch the vessel in Venice, she helped him get the ship included in Norway’s lower-tax international ship registry, with Bergen as its home port. And that’s landed her in hot water.
Drevland, known for being enthusiastic if somewhat theatrical, is now facing conflict of interest issues, an unexpected tax bill tied to the economic advantage of the luxury trip and a loss of credibility, even though she insists she was acting in Bergen’s best interests. Few doubt that, given Drevland’s track record as a high-profile Bergen booster, but she even admits herself now that she “has not handled this situation well.”
It’s just the latest in a long stream of trouble in Bergen, which has been hit by all kinds of bad news during the past year. Few expected that Drevland, who defends Bergen at every turn, would spark new controversy herself, even after a series of city scandals and her own husband recently being sentenced to jail in an unrelated matter.
Changed her story
The drama around Drevland began when shipowner Torstein Hagen asked her to be the godmother of his new cruiseship Viking Star. She accepted and he flew her and her son to Venice for launching ceremonies in a private jet, followed by an all-expenses-paid stay at a luxury hotel. The trip itself grabbed attention when details of it became known, because Drevland seemed to downplay its lavishness and then got caught releasing inaccurate information about it. She claimed Hagen was sending the jet to Bergen anyway, to fetch family members for the trip to Venice. In fact, she admitted over the weekend, only she, her son and Bergen’s harbour director were on board the jet to Venice. That admission, and change of story, came only after local newspaper Bergens Tidende confronted her with details of the private jet flight from state aviation authority Avinor.
Another issue is whether she blended her roles as mayor and private person, and then extended favours to Hagen after he’d paid for her luxury trip. Drevland, of the Conservative Party, contacted her party fellow Monica Mæland, who serves as Norway’s trade minister, to help Hagen get his new Viking Star registered in NIS. Bergens Tidende and state broadcaster NRK have reported that Drevland also sought help for Hagen from other officials, including the county administrator.
The vessel itself was ultimately christened amidst fireworks on the 17th of May in Bergen. The event also left some rumbling about whether it was appropriate to combine a commercial shipping event with the celebrations of Norway’s national day. All references to the christening have since been removed from Viking Star’s website.
‘Not open enough’
Drevland claims it was all done in Bergen’s best interests, even though she has admitted to not being open enough. “I am still proud of being godmother and that the cruiseship sails with ‘Bergen’ as its home port,” Drevland wrote on social media over the weekend. “But I regret not being open enough about all sides of the role I took on.”
Others, including a former head of the Norwegian Shipowners Association, claim Drevland is being unfairly bullied over the entire issue, and that Drevland’s actions can’t be equated with corruption or bribery. Newspaper Bergens Avisen also reports that she’s had “massive support” from the public at large over social media.
Drevland, meanwhile, wrote that there is “no retreat or maneuver” that will now allow her to avoid the issues that have come up. “I will answer questions when I’m back (from sick leave),” she wrote. “I hope that will be soon and I ask for understanding about that.” Drevland, who just turned 68, is running for reelection this fall.