Trude Drevland, the outgoing mayor of Bergen, was charged with corruption on Friday as was the chief of Bergen’s harbour authority, Inge Tangerås. The charges climax a dramatic year for both the city and Drevland, who’s been on leave since police reopened their corruption investigation.
At issue is whether Drevland and Tangerås misused their positions when Norwegian shipowner Torstein Hagen launched a new cruise ship, Viking Star, to be home-ported in Bergen. Hagen invited Drevland to be the ship’s “godmother,” and flew both her, her son and Tangerås to the launch in Venice in June of 2014, all expenses paid and with lodging at a luxury hotel.
Three months later, Drevland wrote a letter to her Conservative Party colleague, Trade Minister Monica Mæland, arguing that Hagen’s ship should be registered in Norway (with tax breaks) so it could be emblazoned with “Bergen” on its hull as home port. The rules were later changed to allow for that, and local newspaper Bergens Tidende began writing about how the mayor of Bergen seemed to be working hard for Hagen’s Viking Cruises. She argued, meanwhile, that it was “flott” (very fine) for Bergen to have “such a beautiful new ship” home-ported in the city.
Drevland also reportedly tried to arrange a christening dinner for Hagen and his shipowning company at Bergen’s historic Håkonshall, but county authorities halted that plan. Controversy exploded when Drevland and harbour chief Tangerås did arrange a “harbour party” on Norway’s national day, the 17th of May, for the christening itself. Other traditional festivities were cancelled and other vessels kept out of the harbour so that Viking Star would get all the attention, complete with a fireworks display. Drevland and Tangerås were also invited on a three-day cruise after the party.
That prompted one opposition politician in Bergen to charge that “the 17th of May has been sold,” and police launched an investigation at the end of May. They dropped it, though, just a few weeks later. Several corruption experts claimed that was a mistake.
Meanwhile, Drevland was confronted with ongoing questions from the media and she stumbled badly. She ended up have to admit that she hadn’t told the truth when she’d claimed Hagen’s private jet was “just making a quick stop” in Bergen anyway and hadn’t flow in only to pick her up. Bergens Tidende had acquired logs from state aviation agency Avinor, and Drevland, her son and Tangerås were the only passengers on board.
In early June, Drevland went on sick leave, citing stress after a year of various other troubles in Bergen plus the conviction of her husband in another unrelated case. On June 15, she held a tearful press conference where she also admitted she’d accepted another free cruise valued at NOK 100,000 for herself and a girlfriend, who happened to be the head of the Bergen business council. That was ultimately cancelled and Drevland disappeared again on leave, with some commentators claiming her tears made her “impossible to attack” further.
She returned from sick leave at the end of the summer, ready to campaign for reelection, only to go back on unpaid leave when the police announced they were reopening their investigation, which resulted in Friday’s charges being filed in connection with applications to a local court to ransack both Tangerås’ and Drevlands offices and homes. He has now been suspended from his job as harbour chief. Drevland’s Conservative Party also lost the local elections on Monday, with a Labour-led coalition now ready to take over her office.
Professor Frank Aarebrot, an election researcher and political expert who is on the faculty at the University of Bergen, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) Friday afternoon that he thinks the political career of the once-so-popular Drevland is now over. He admitted to feeling “an immediate feeling of sadness” when hearing of charges filed against her, but quickly added that it is, “of course,” important “to hinder corruption in our society.” Drevland clearly didn’t think she was doing anything wrong, and claimed in June she has always only acted in Bergen’s best interests.
Aarebrot stressed that Drevland, who wouldn’t commen on the charges again her Friday, had not been convicted. If she eventually is, she’ll face a prison term of up to 10 years.