UPDATED: A Member of Parliament for the Progress Party has admitted to submitting fraudulent expense accounts, after newspaper Aftenposten discovered how he had turned in a series of undocumented claims for reimbursement. MP Mazyar Keshvari, who sits on the Parliament’s own disciplinary committee, was himself reported to police on Thursday afternoon for collecting tens of thousands of kroner to which he was not entitled.
Keshvari’s defense attorney Arve Lønnum was telling Norwegian media on Thursday that Keshvari is “not well” and has been out on sick leave since October 9. MPs are legally required to sit out their elected terms, but Keshvari’s seat representing the Progress Party’s Oslo delegation in Parliament has at least temporarily been taken over by the substitute in line, former party leader Carl I Hagen. Tone Larsen has taken over Keshvari’s duties as county leader for the party in Oslo.
Progress Party leader Siv Jensen, who also serves as Norway’s finance minister, said Thursday afternoon that Keshvari’s contrived expense reports would “have consequences” for his political career.
Newspaper Aftenposten reported that between November 2016 and August 2018, Keshvari turned in undocumented expense accounts totalling NOK 290,000 (around USD 36,000) for lengthy trips allegedly made in his own car. Expenses from such trips are calculated at a flat rate for distance traveled and don’t require documentation.
Aftenposten reported that Keshvari is among MPs who have been refunded the most amounts of money for such trips. Aftenposten also uncovered, however, car trips that appear to be fictional. Keshvari had, for example, claimed expenses for a long drive to Sørlandet (Norway’s southern coast) on a day when he in fact was in Oslo and had published photos on Facebook from a party meeting.
The newspaper documented that Keshvari claimed expenses of around NOK 36,000 for travel on other days when he actually was in Oslo and could not have been out driving long distances.
‘Laying his cards on the table’
Lønnum told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Thursday that Keshvari is now willing to “lay all the cards on the table.” He has asked for a meeting with the administration of the Parliament to go through all his expense accounts, determine which were not legitimate and make arrangements to repay the money he’d been reimbursed.
Lønnum claimed that Keshvari understands that what he did is unacceptable. “Mazyar is not well, but is intent on making things right,” Lønnum told NRK. “Everything else is less important.”
Marianne Andreassen, the top administrator of the Norwegian Parliament, called the allegedly fraudulent expense accounts a “major case that we’re now examining to get an overview and determine its scope.” After first being undecided, Andreassen also said the Parliament’s administration “had found it correct to report Keshvari to the police. This is a serious case. In order to clarify what has happened, it’s important that police launch an investigation.”
Keshvari himself has resigned as county leader for the Progress Party in Oslo. He has been filling in for Jensen in Parliament while she serves as finance minister. Keshvari has declined to speak to the media, preferring that all questions go through his lawyer.
Violation of trust
She claimed that the Parliament’s system for reimbursing employees’ and MPs’ expenses is in line with the state’s, but relies on MPs revealing correct travel. “We have a good system for handling mistakes or deficiences (in expense reports),” she said, but it also is based on being able to have confidence in what’s reported.
Andreassen said her staff has been in direct contact with Keshvari’s attorney. The parliamentary leader for the Progress Party, which is part of Norway’s conservative government coaliiton, told NRK that Keshvari’s undocumented travel expenses came as a surprise to party fellows.
“I think everyone is shocked,” MP Hans Andreas Limi told NRK. “This is very surprising and very unfortunate. There’s nothing else to say about it.” He said the party would “take care of Keshvari as a colleague,” but it’s now up to the Parliament’s administration and police to decide what happens next.