NEWS ANALYSIS: Norway’s landmark and lengthy police corruption case entered its second week behind closed doors on Monday, as testimony turned to names and details that, if made public, can make life dangerous for many involved. It’s one man’s word against another’s, as a veteran police officer fights for his career and reputation, while his already-convicted hash-smuggling informant aims to spend less time in prison.
Eirik Jensen, the police officer charged with serious corruption and violating drug laws himself, is up against the Norwegian police’s own internal affairs division aided by Gjermund Cappelen, the convicted hash smuggler who claims Jensen was actually a partner in crime. Jensen, who served for years as one of the Oslo Police Department’s most high-profile leader of crackdowns on gangs and drug dealers, vigorously denies Cappelen’s charges and is determined to clear his name.
It’s a case that the police really can’t win: If Jensen is acquitted of the corruption charges against him, it will reflect poorly on the investigation carried out by the state police’s internal affairs division (Spesialenheten for politisaker). If Jensen is convicted, the Oslo Police and colleagues around the country will have a terrible stain on their record.
From the offense to the defense
The case, due to carry on for as long as six month, began last week with Jensen starting on the offensive but quickly having to go on the defensive under tough questioning by police prosecutor Kristine Schilling. She pointed to allegedly close ties between Cappelen and Jensen, beyond what would seem normal in a cop-informant relationship. She also pointed out how Jensen spent money far beyond what his police salary would seem to allow.
Jensen was under fire from day one, peppered with questions from the prosecution that Schilling didn’t allow him to avoid. Newspaper Aftenposten’s commentator and veteran courts reporter Inge D Hanssen pointed out that Jensen’s answers weren’t always convincing. Jensen admitted to using lots of cash over the years, both in terms of earnings from side businesses and spending on such things as cars and antiques. The 59-year-old Jensen said he’d received cash inheritance in advance from his mother, that the case came from years of saving and that other sources of cash varied. It all added up to several hundred-thousand kroner that prosecutors suspect came from ill-gotten gains.
Jensen kept the cash in boxes and in a safe, or hid it at home, and he even admitted that not all of it was disclosed to tax authorities. “That’s in line with the impression we’ve had of Jensen in the courtroom,” Hanssen wrote. “Both in his role as a policeman and as a private person, he bended the rules. But did he ever receive cash from Cappelen? Never!”
Jensen was indicted for, among other things, aiding Cappelen’s enormous import of hash into Norway since 2004, a total of around 14 tons until Cappelen himself was arrested just before Christmas 2013. Jensen instead distanced himself as much as possible from Cappelen. He admitted to helping Cappelen on some occasions because Cappelen was a key informant for the police. But he didn’t protect the 50-year-old Norwegian man now known as the country’s “hash baron” and claims he wasn’t even aware Cappelen was dealing in hash. He seemed to overlook all of Cappelen’s fancy cars, expensive watches and lavish lifestyle even though Cappelen had no known source of income. It emerged in court that Cappelen has only held paid jobs for two months in the course of his entire life, when he delivered newspapers at age 15 and when he worked for the state highway department at 16. Aftenposten has reported that Cappelen has never paid tax.
‘Unique insight’ into criminal underworld
It still didn’t occur to Jensen to delve into where Cappelen’s own money was coming from. He was apparently content in the belief that Cappelen imported and sold expensive watches and chewing tobacco. Jensen knew, though, that Cappelen was a valuable informant: “We (Jensen and his police colleagues) understood early on that Gjermund Cappelen (who changed his last name from Thorud) was a person with unique insight, especially into locked milieu, also beyond Norway’s borders,” Jensen testified last week. “He’s possibly one of the best informants we’ve ever had. He contributed greatly to a large number of solved cases both here and abroad.” That allegedly also led to narcotics seizures tied to criminal motorcycle clubs and 2.5 tons of hash bound for the free area of Christiania in Copenhagen.
Cappelen, meanwhile, has claimed that Jensen not only knew about his drug operations but aided some of them and profited as well. Cappelen has also claimed that his life has been threatened since it emerged that he was a police informant for more than 20 years. That’s another reason why court proceedings were closed to the public on Monday. Jensen and his high-profile defense attorney John Christian Elden wanted to keep them open, not least when Jensen would describe in more detail his relationship with Cappelen.
Jensen admitted late last week, via his partner’s comments on social media, that it had been “a tough week for us.” They thanked friends and colleagues who showed up in the courtroom to follow proceedings for their “open support.” Jensen noted how “every day is spent preparing together with my very competent attorneys.” Elden told reporters that Jensen has a strong desire that the hordes of reporters following the case hear what he has to say, directly from him.” Cappelen, on the other hand, has claimed the court proceedings “resemble a reality show,” and he does not want the public to hear everything that will be said.
Battle for credibility
It all boils down to who will be more credible in the end, Jensen or Cappelen. Researchers following the case think it nonetheless will weaken public confidence in the police.
“On the one hand, it builds confidence to have openness around police work,” Marit Egge, a researcher at the state police academy, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “When we at the same time hear that folks within the system don’t follow the rules set up for them, it can of course be unfortunate.”
Egge said that public confidence in the police in Norway remains “high and stable,” but that information coming out in the course of the Jensen case can weaken it, at least in the short-term. Nicolay B Johansen, a criminologist at the University of Aalborg in Denmark, agreed, unless the police manage to make it clear that questionable methods are not representative for the police as a whole.
The Jensen case is due to call on scores of witnesses to testify as the case continues until the summer holidays.