Police in Western Norway claim they don’t have the time or resources needed to try to find out who sent a sexually explicit and highly offensive text message to the former female leader of the Center Party (Senterpartiet, Sp). Police also noted that party officials themselves failed to report the harassment when it first occurred two years ago.
“We believe that the severity of the case weighed up against the resources we’d need to use means we can’t justify making this case a priority,” said Police Inspector Ronny Iden of the Vest Police District in Western Norway.
That’s the home district of Liv Signe Navarsete, who received the offensive message late one Saturday night in February 2016. It was sent from the mobile telephone of Morten Søberg, a former state secretary for the Center Party who was one of 10 men partying that weekend at a mountain cabin (hytte) in Sweden. Seven other men in the group also hold or have held high-ranking positions in the party. Included among them was Ola Borten Moe, who has since suspended himself as deputy leader of the party, and two mayors for the party in Trøndelag: Ivar Vigdenes of Stjørdal and Bjørn Arild Gram of Steinkjer. Søberg himself is currently a director at Sparebank 1 Gruppen in Oslo, and his involvement doesn’t reflect well on the bank either.
‘Running and hiding’
Søberg strongly denies that he was behind the message that was meant to hurt and intimidate Navarsete, who had earlier been locked in a power struggle with Moe. Søberg claims one of the other men must have used his phone when he’d left the group to go to the toilet after midnight. Moe has also denied sending the message as have all the others.
That means at least one of them is lying, or that the men have all conspired to protect one another. Repeated attempts to get one of them to admit sending the message have failed, prompting party leader Trygve Slagsvold Vedum to finally report the harassment to police just over a week ago, after the case had been publicly revealed and become front-page news all over the country.
Vedum himself has also been harsly criticized for failing to act on the harassment as soon as Navarsete reported it to party leadership back in 2016. “It’s incredible that Vedum could have viewed such serious harassment of his predecessor so lightly,” wrote political commentator Arne Strand in newspaper Dagsavisen last weekend. He and others have accused Vedum, who otherwise has managed to rebuild party support after its crushing loss in the election of 2013, of “running and hiding” from the harassment case instead of tackling it and fleshing out those guilty of such harassment right away.
Some have suspected that Vedum, a farmer from Hedmark County, was afraid to challenge the party’s powerful bloc of men from Trøndelag County. Moe has a history of making life difficult for colleagues in the party and Vedum, critics claim, didn’t want to invoke their wrath.
Leadership lied, too
The harassment was thus kept secret for two years until someone leaked it to newspaper Nationen, and Navarsete confirmed it. That also exposed how party leadership also had lied when they claimed they were the only political party in Norway that had not been marred by sexual harassment. It most certainly had been.
With no pending resolution from the police, the case will now continue to hang over the party unless one of the men finally comes forward. All 10 men involved risk losing whatever credibility they have left. Moe said last week that he’d voluntarily suspended himself as deputy leader because he couldn’t function in such a climate of uncertainty and suspicion. It’s unclear whether he’ll now try to resume his duties.
Navarsete was furious that the police have dropped the case, but she told newspaper Bergens Tidende that she wasn’t surprised. She otherwise deferred further comment to party leadership.
Vedum said he would now call in the party’s board to a special meeting “and land this case in line with the party’s ethical rules.” He has claimed earlier, though, that he does not favour collective punishment of all 10 men. The police’s decision not to pursue the case can also be appealed to state prosecutors.