UPDATED: A high-ranking Member of Parliament for the Progress Party withdrew from all his positions on Wednesday, five years after he sent hard-core pornographic photos to young male party members in his home community in Østfold. A former local politician for the Christian Democrats in Hordaland, meanwhile, pleaded guilty this week to having sex with an 11-year-old girl, while a local politician in Tromsø has been jailed, charged with having exploited his position to obtain sex.
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that Ulf Leirstein, the 45-year-old deputy leader of the Progress Party’s delegation in Parliament, sent porno via his email account at the Parliament (Stortinget) on multiple occasions. One of the recipients was a 14-year-old boy at the time, and thus under the legal age for sex between consenting adults.
NRK has interviewed the now young man, who wanted to tell his story anonymously. He said the emails sent from Leirstein’s address at the Parliament in 2012 were part of a pattern of unwanted sexual attention from Leirstein, who also was an MP at the time and member of the Parliament’s justice committee. Leirstein, originally from Sarpsborg, has been an MP since 2005. One of his emails to young party fellows contained 44 pornographic photos, another 11.
“I felt extremely uncomfortable about (the mails), but didn’t dare go further with them,” the whistleblower told NRK. “Ulf had such a position as Member of Parliament, first on the local (candidates’) list and on the justice committee, that he was God and untouchable for us.” NRK reported the young man was emboldened by the international “MeToo” campaign against sexual harassment.
Asked how he felt about receiving the hard porno via mail, the young party member called it “shocking. Ulf had been a mentor. You can think what it’s like to be a young aspiring politician and get something like that from a Member of Parliament. It was surprising and sad.”
NRK reported how Leirstein, who has served as justice policy spokesman for the Progress Party, has been active in cases regarding sexual assault against minors. He has often stated in the media that punitive jail terms for such crimes are too low. He has also supported chemical castration of people who sexually assault children.
Leirstein quickly announced he would take a “time out” from political duties after NRK published its story on the porno mails. He wrote the following in an email to NRK and on social media:
“NRK presents an old story today in which an anonymous boy, who was 14 at the time, talks about emails and text messages from me with sexualized content. Without commenting on all that’s coming out, I acknowledge that I have crossed the line and I’m sorry about that. It was not my intention to offend anyone. I was going through a tough period and did things I’m not proud of. Both as a private person and as an elected officials it’s unacceptable for me. I am sorry I have displayed poor judgment. I will now take a time-out and suspend myself from all my public positions.”
Punishable criminal offense
A legal expert at the University of Bergen, Erling Husabø, told NRK that spreading pornography to people under the age of 18 is a criminal offense in Norway, punishable by up to three years in prison. “If this (the photos) is pornography, it’s a violation of the criminal code, paragraph 317c,” Husabø told NRK. “It’s enough that the pornography is sent to minors.”
Siv Jensen, leader of the Progress Party who also serves as finance minister, was testifying at a public hearing in Parliament on the management of state statistics bureau SSB Wednesday afternoon and initially unavailable for comment. She later told NRK, however, that she was disturbed by the revelations about her party colleague and viewed the complaints as “very serious.” She said the party had not received any formal complaints before NRK’s released its story about the pornographic emails Wednesday afterternoon.
“I expect all of our people to conduct themselves properly and to uphold Norwegian law,” Jensen told NRK after the SSB hearing. Hans Andreas Limi, who leads the Progress Party’s parliamentary delegation, was also disturbed, calling the emails sent by Lierstein “completely unacceptable.” He noted it would be difficult to investigate, since the young man complaining chose to remain anonymous, but the party would take the case seriously.
Leirstein has been in trouble before, also within his own party, for hateful comments he’s made online and for his support for others’ offensive remarks. The party’s deputy leader, Per Sandberg, said on one of NRK’s radio debate programs in 2014 that Leirstein had been scolded by party officials several times. Now he’s become the second top politician this week to withdraw from his posts, after the Labour Party’s deputy leader Trond Giske resigned amidst charges of sexual harassment of women and abuse of power.
More court action in Bergen and Tromsø
Another former local politician for the Christian Democrats party in Hordaland County was in court in Bergen this week, where he admitted to having had sexual contact with a girl who was 11 years old at the time. Newspaper Bergens Tidende reported that he’s been indicted for several assaults on girls aged 10-11 between 2013 and 2016, both at his home, in a boat and in a camping van. The man, who has not been publicly identified, resigned all his political posts when he was arrested in August 2016.
Police in Tromsø, meanwhile, are investigating whether there are more victims of a top local politician who’s been arrested and charged with using his political position to obtain sexual favours. The man, who also has not been publicly identified, has vigorously denied the charges against him and is challenging his detention.
The top local politician was arrested after a man in his 20s had reported the harassment to which he felt he’d been subjected to another public agency. It contacted police, who had also received a complaint about the politicians from another man in his 30s in 2016. That case was dropped, though, because it was difficult to determine whether the man had exploited his position for sex.