Karin Woldseth, a former Member of Parliament for Norway’s Progress Party, has been stripped of her title as an honorary member of the Council of Europe’s parliamentary group and banned from entering the Council’s building in Strasbourg. The punitive action came after an independent investigation determined that she violated the Council of Europe’s ethical guidelines by using her Council access to lobby for the dictatorship in Azerbaijan.
Woldseth, age 63, denies the charges against her, calling them “sad and stupid.” She told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Friday that she merely forgot to turn in her access card to the Council after her period as an MP in Norway ended in 2013. She had led the Norwegian Parliament’s delegation to the Council of Europe’s parliamentary assembly (called PACE) from 2009 to 2013, and became a lobbyist the following year.
She claims she never worked on behalf of Azerbaijan, which was allowed to join the Council of Europe but has been repeatedly accused of violating the human rights the Council is supposed to protect. Woldseth refused to answer questions, though, about what she was doing in Azerbaijan during two trips in 2014 to the country that’s known for jailing and even torturing opponents to the country’s dictatorship. “What was I doing there?” she responded to NRK. “I won’t go into my various lobbying operations. I won’t discuss my lobbying work, but as far as I know it’s legal for everyone to travel to Azerbaijan.” Nor would she say whether she has accepted payment from Azerbaijan or representatives of Azerbaijan’s interests.
She also disputed the investigation’s findings that she used her entry card to the Council of Europe fully 90 times between 2015 and 2017. “That must be a mistake, I was hardly in the Council of Europe in 2015 and 2016,” she told NRK.
Other members of Norway’s own delegation reacted that Woldseth appeared frequently at the Council after her term was over. “I asked Karin Woldseth, when she has been present at the Council of Europe, if she was representing anyone,” Ingjerd Schou, a Norwegian MP for the Conservative Party who took over Woldseth’s role as leader of the Norwegian delegation told NRK. “I didn’t get an answer.”
Influence peddling by Azerbaijan has been a concern for years, and the Council of Europe’s secretary general, Thorbjørn Jagland of Norway, has been criticized for not cracking down on it much earlier. The investigation was ordered after claims that Azerbaijan bribed members of the Council of Europe to oppose any measures that criticized violations of human rights in the country. Woldseth was among PACE members, but the only Norwegian, who voted to halt a report on political prisoners in Azerbaijan in 2013.
The Council’s independent investigation stressed that there was no evidence that Woldseth received compensation for her work that favoured Azerbaijan. At the same time, however, the report claimed she acted in a manner deemed as out of line with her ethical commitments as an honorary member.
Schou, who took over for Woldseth, is a member of the committee that stripped Woldseth and 13 others of access to the Council of Europe. “The most important reason was that they misused what’s the foundation for all political activity, confidence,” Schou said. “That was the determination of the committee that they be banned and no longer are honorary members.”
Woldseth told NRK that she ended her lobbying work in January of last year and now leads a group representing retirees from the public sector in Norway.