Norway’s government coalition was shaken Friday by sex scandals in both its Progress and Conservative parties, just as it appeared poised to expand with the addition of the Liberal Party. Evidence that the deputy leader of Progress’ parliamentary delegation had proposed group sex with both a female party member and a 15-year-old boy led to his abrupt resignation from all party duties Friday evening, while the Conservatives admitted to dereliction of duty for not following up warnings that the leader of its youth organization was sexually harassing even younger female members.
Ulf Leirstein announced his resignation Friday evening both as deputy leader of the Progress Party’s delegation in Parliament and as the party’s spokeman on judicial policy. Progress Party leader Siv Jensen, who also serves as Norway’s finance minister, called Leirstein’s resignation “correct and necessary … given the serious character of this case.” She claimed the party had “strict ethical regulations” and that she expected all elected officials to “behave properly and follow Norwegian law.”
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) had reported just hours earlier on more emails sent in 2012 by Leirstein from his address at the Parliament to a woman who was a member of the Progress Party at the time. She referred to herself as one of “your hundred other Progres Party women,” and agreed to meet for group sex with Leirstein and a teenage member of the party’s youth organization FpU. They had a discussion about who that would be, and Leirstein proposed one boy by name. “Or is there someone else you want?” he wrote.
The young boy in question had already told NRK how Leirstein had sent him and others in the party’s youth group pornographic photos when he was just 14. That’s a criminal offense in Norway, although the statute of limitations may have run out.
“I must say it was very uncomfortable that an adult Member of Parliament had planned to have sex with me and a grown woman” in addition to sending the pornography that NRK described as “hardcore.” He later dropped out of the party and political activity.
Leirstein linked his resignation, though, to “enormous media pressure” and objected to some of the information that was being presented. He admitted to displaying “poor judgement” and that he “crossed the line, therefore I now choose to withdraw from my positions as deputy leader and judicial policy spokesman in the Progress Party’s parliamentary group. I’m doing that to shield my family and the party.” He issued no direct apology for his behaviour or alleged harassment of young party members.
As an elected official, however, he will retain his seat in Parliament as will Kristian Tonning Riise, a new 29-year-old Member of Parliament elected just last fall to represent the Conservative Party from Hedmark. He also served as leader of the Conservatives’ youth organization Unge Høyre but resigned earlier this week over “inappropriate behaviour in social situations.”
Conservative Party officials admitted late Friday that both they and those running Unge Høyre had “failed badly” in not following up warnings against Riise. Newspaper Aftenposten reported that stories about Riise’s behaviour at parties and alleged sexual harassment of teenage girls at social events were so rampant that they had informally warned against letting Riise be alone with girls much younger than himself.
Prime Minister Erna Solberg was among party officials apologizing on Friday as she revealed that more complaints had been filed against Riise since he’d resigned his post late Wednesday night. She said the complaints (of unwanted sexual attention) were “extremely serious and indicate unacceptable conduct.”
“The organization has failed badly in its treatment and follow-up of warnings received earlier,” the party wrote in a press release Friday. “We apologize for that in the strongest of terms to those who warned us.” The party now plans to publish guidelines for handling complaints of sexual harassment on its website, to prohibit alcoholic drinks at its social events and to always alert the party itself when complaints are filed.
The leader of the Progress Party’s parliamentary delegation, Hans Andreas Limi, admitted it had heard some “rumours” about Lierstein as well. He claimed that since no complaints were filed, party officials therefore “had no case” to investigate. He claimed the information NRK reported Friday was “completely new” to him and other party officials and stated that “it was NRK that started all this.” Party officials never followed up on the rumours about Lierstein, who represents Østfold and now lives in Moss.
Lierstein is among top Progress Party officials who have long been skeptical to immigration to Norway, and sought to restrict it on the grounds it can threaten Norwegian culture and ways of life. He wrote on his party’s website that he would work for “increased control of who comes to this country, in addition to making sure that fewer obtain residence permission so that it’s possible to integrate. Social benefits in Norway should to a higher degree be reserved for Norwegian citizens and tax payers.”