The largest police scandal in Norway since World War II reached a dramatic climax on Monday when the Oslo City Court handed down the country’s toughest punishment, 21 years in prison, to veteran police officer Eirik Jensen. The so-called “hash baron” whom Jensen was convicted of protecting and abetting for years, Gjermund Cappelen, was sentenced to a shorter jail term of 15 years since he’d revealed Jensen’s role and helped police snare him.
There are no winners in the case, because police and prosecutors themselves have been under heavy criticism for not reacting earlier to Jensen’s often unorthodox work methods, or acting on suspicions that he may be involved with the drug smugglers he tracked. Cappelen had been viewed as a long-time informant for Jensen. A unanimous panel of judges in the Oslo City Court concluded that instead, the two had collaborated and cooperated on the import of millions of tons of hash to Norway, with both benefitting financially.
Jensen was specifically convicted of both aiding and abetting the import of 13.9 million tons of hash but also of serious corruption. The court claimed he willingly accepted cash, the remodeling of a bathroom in his home and expensive watches from Cappelen. In addition to his jail term, lengthy by Norwegian standards, he was ordered to pay NOK 667,800 to the state.
Oslo Judge Kim Heger stated that in his opinion, police officers are held in such a special position of public trust that any violation of the law constitutes a “threat to important principles,” and puts the credibility of the police at risk. The court, Heger claimed, could thus find no circumstances that could justify reducing the country’s maximum jail term.
Cappelen, meanwhile, received a so-called “punishment rebate” of 30 percent for cooperating with the police investigation. Prosecutors had asked he be sentenced to 18 years in prison because of his wide-spread and long-term hash smuggling, but the court ruled 15 years was enough. He was also ordered to repay NOK 825 million to the state, tied to the value of his ill-gotten gains over the years. Both Cappelen and Jensen will receive credit for time already spent in police custody since their arrests in late 2013 and early 2014.
The case has attracted enormous attention in Norway, with public interest so high that Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) requested and received permission to air all four hours of Monday’s court proceedings live on national television. Two judges took turns reading the court’s lengthy decision aloud, with the sentencing withheld until the bitter end.
At issue was the prospect that a respected Norwegian police officer could have taken part in 21 separate incidents of smuggling hash to Norway, and accept bribes to cover it up. There’s never been such a scandal within the Norwegian police since officers cooperated with Nazi German occupiers during World War II.
Even if Jensen had been acquitted, the case would remain a black-eye for police investigators and prosecutors if they’d failed to get a conviction after years of investigation and court proceedings. Many feel the entire case damaged the reputation of Norway’s state police as soon as it emerged.
“This is a situation we are not accustomed to,” wrote one of Norway’s top legal commentators, Inge D Hanssen, in newspaper Aftenposten. “Corrupt cops are something we know from crime novels and American films. Highly regarded Norwegian police officers don’t do such things.” Hanssen attributes the enormous public interest in the case to its shock value, because it is for many Norwegians unthinkable that a Norwegian police officer could be so corrupt and get away with it for so many years.
International experts suggest that would be a naive outlook, according to Aftenposten, not least given a series of similar cases recently in Finland, France and Canada. Aftenposten cited a highly regarded North American police psychologist, Mike Webster, who noted that police officials claiming that corruption cases come as a shock display a lack insight in human nature and police culture. Police officers who regularly work with informants and must gain the trust of criminals, he said, can become vulnerable to the criminals’ influence.
Prosecutors can now be relieved that the court believed them and agreed with their conclusions, despite a controversial lack of hard evidence. Criticism continues that police officials were slow to reign in Jensen. He maintains his innocence but refused to talk to reporters and quickly left the courtroom after telling the judge he’d use the next 14 days allotted to decide whether to appeal.
His conviction on Monday was also a major defeat for Jensen’s well-known defense attorney, John Christian Elden. He faced reporters immediately, though, blasted the court decision and said that “it lies in the cards that it will be appealed.”