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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Oil minister avoids new rape probe

A state prosecutor has decided not to re-open an investigation of 18-year-old rape charges against Norwegian Oil Minister Terje Søviknes of the conservative Progress Party. Søviknes was thus spared the glare of a rape case, while the girl who was just 16 at the time claims she has been denied justice.

Oil Minister Terje Søviknes has avoided being the defendant in a rape investigation, but has also felt forced to stay away from the Pride Parade this weekend. PHOTO: FrP/Paul Weaver/NA bilder

The awkward case ended in an embarrassing reprieve on Monday for Søviknes, who otherwise spent his day controversially opening up new Arctic areas to oil and gas exploration. He had declined to comment on his alleged victim’s effort to re-open her case against him, other than to tell newspaper Bergens Tidende last week that he had “registered” the demand from her.

He was married and 31 years old when he met the 16-year-old at a national meeting of the Progress Party’s youth group held in Telemark in 2000. She was drunk and he did eventually admit to having sex with her in his hotel room, but claims it was consensual. He initially received strong backing from party leaders at the time including former Progress Party boss Carl I Hagen and current leader Siv Jensen, who also serves as Norway’s finance minister.

The 16-year-old long claimed he raped her but local police at the time ended up dropping the case and declaring nothing criminal had taken place. With the Progess Party under increasing pressure at the time, Søviknes eventually was stripped of all national party duties until he was named oil minister in the current conservative government coalition in which Jensen now also serves.

Alleged victim still upset
His appointment, which also thrust him back into the public spotlight, upset the woman who has had a history of mental illness and continues to claim she was his victim. Her attorney has stated that there were several severe deficiencies with a police investigation of the case that finally was taken up in 2001. Her complaint hadn’t been followed up for a year, nor was her statement to a psychiatrist shortly after the weekend party meeting that she had been “raped by an older man at a conference she attended.”

Her attorney, Jannicke Keller-Fløystad, demanded a new investigation earlier this month on the grounds the initial probe 18 years ago was brief and not objective. Prosecutor Anne M Katteland of the Telemark court district where the disputed sex occurred rejected the demand on Monday, claiming the police had questioned 10 people tied to the case plus both Søviknes and the girl. Her attorney at the time had not requested a further investigation either.

“After a thorough review of the case, I can’t see that there are deficiencies with the (initial) investigation or the decision made,” Katteland wrote on Monday, claiming the woman’s demand lacked foundation. Nor is there any new evidence in the case, Katteland wrote. Neither the woman nor her attorney are giving up, claiming they will now appeal for prosecution at the national level.

No Pride either
Søviknes wrote in an email to state broadcaster NRK Monday that he now hopes he can put the case behind him. “I have apologized many times during the past 18 years for what happened in 2000,” the oil minister wrote. “It (the sexual encounter) should not have happened and it was my responsibility to prevent it. At the same I’ve been clear that nothing criminal occurred. I hope everyone involved can put this behind us.”

The oil minister, meanwhile, has also withdrawn from planned participation in the upcoming Pride Parade following a social media campaign against him. TV2 reported last week that reports were circulating that read “No rapists in the parade, thank you,” in reference Søviknes’ alleged assault in 2000.

Søviknes replied that he wanted to march in the Pride Parade to show support for those who should be able to live the life they want with whomever they love. “When that focus moves from the goal of the parade, to one where some people don’t want my participation, I choose not to march,” Søviknes told TV2, “so that the parade can attract all attention to the important issues that Pride represents.” Berglund



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