Former minister under indictment

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A former Member of Parliament and government minister for the Conservative Party, who later became a county governor in Northern Norway, has been indicted on charges he misused his position to acquire sexual contact with young men. Svein Ludvigsen, who retired in 2014, denies all the charges against him.

Svein Ludvigsen, when he still served as a Member of Parliament in the 1990s. PHOTO: Stortingsarkivet

It’s unusual for Norwegian media to identify criminal defendants prior to any conviction. In this case, media outlets including local Tromsø newspaper Nordlys, are making an exception because of Ludvigsen’s prominent position in both regional and national politics for many years.

He was arrested as long ago as January 3, and held in custody for five weeks. Media continued to shield his identity, however, on the grounds the charges against him remained unclear. The Norwegian press is known for being careful about identifying both crime suspects and victims, both to protect their families and others who may have been involved, at least until a verdict is reached.

When the indictment against Ludvigsen was made public on Wednesday, however, the charges became clear indeed: Ludvigsen allegedly abused his power as fylkesmannen (county governor), a high position that literally had made him the king’s representative in Troms. After a lengthy investigation, prosecutors now believe Ludvigsen used it to exploit three especially vulnerable victims, all of whom were young asylum seekers.

“There is a close connection between his (former) position as county governor and the crimes police believe Ludvigsen has committed,” wrote the editor of Nordlys, Helge Nitteberg. It would have been all but impossible to write about the serious case of sexual assault, without identifying Ludvigsen. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that the assaults occurred while Ludvigsen was still county governor.

“We have taken out an indictment because we believe there’s a connection between the position of power the defendant had and the victims,” prosecutor Tor Børge Nordmo told NRK. “The position he held at the time (of the assaults) is central to the case.”

Case initially dropped, but re-opened
The case dates back to 2011, when assaults allegedly began that later were reported to authorities by a man in his 30s. That case was eventually dropped, but taken up again after a man in his 20s reported similar assaults. Newspapers VG and Dagbladet were reporting that the assaults allegedly took place at the county’s own offices (Fylkeshuset), at hotels in Oslo, at a holiday cabin and in a parked car.

Another police investigation began and ended this past summer, only to be taken up yet again after prosecutors demanded additional questioning of the defendant. Now the case is expected to go to court after New Year.

Ludvigsen, age 72, has been a top politician in Norway both regionally and nationally. He served as an MP for the Troms chapter of the Conservative Party (Høyre) throughout the 1990s and until he was named a government minister in charge of fishing and coastal issues in 2001. He was part of the conservative coalition government led by the Christian Democrats’ leader at the time, Kjell Magne Bondevik, from 2001 until 2005.

He’d been appointed county governor (fylkesmann) of Troms already in August 2001, but didn’t take over his post until January 2006, after the Labour Party leader Jens Stoltenberg took over as prime minister following the national election in the fall of 2005.

Ludvigsen continued as county governor until he retired in 2014. Just last year, however, Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s coalition government appointed him as a member of an expert commission charged with identifying which public services Norway’s fewer and bigger counties should take on following its regional reform.

‘Sad for everyone involved’
The Ludvigsen case comes after a year filled with allegations, also against politicians, stemming from the “me-too” campaign against sexual harassment and assault. It was having immediate consequences on Wednesday, with the current couunty governor, Elisabeth Vik Aspaker of the Conservative Party, declaring a conflict of interest in the case because of her close working connections with Ludvigsen over many years. The case is also difficult for those working in the county governor’s office, because of questions raised over responsibility for vulnerable asylum seekers. While Aspaker has mostly declined comment, she called the case “sad for everyone involved.”

The case is also another blow for the Conservative Party and politicians in general: “These are serious charges,” Prime Minister Erna Solberg told news burean NTB. “Now the case will be handled by the courts, and it’s important that it be fully illuminated, not least out of consideration for the plaintiffs.”

Ludvigsen’s defense attorney was firm in his client’s rejection of the charges against him. “He denies all this completely,” defense attorney Ulf E Hansen told reporters on Wednesday. “He is of course disappointed by the indictment. At the same time he thinks it can be good to get this case before the court, so that he can defend himself.” Ludvigsen has declined comment himself.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund