“Norwegians are naive when it comes to their own security,” claimed a former police investigator to newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN), after the kidnapping of a wealthy Norwegian’s wife was finally made public this week. Security consultant Johnny Brenna said he’s only surprised that such kidnappings haven’t occurred earlier, while others including potential targets don’t want kidnapping fears to destroy Norway’s open society that’s long been based on trust and confidence.
“There are many people here (in Norway) who have a lot of money and who should think more about their personal security than they have,” Brenna told DN. “It was only a matter of time before this sort of kidnapping would happen here, because we have an open society, we have open borders and it’s easy to gather a lot of information about people.”
He was responding to new security concerns following news Wednesday that the wife of wealthy investor Tom Hagen has been missing since October 31. Police believe Anne-Elisabeth Falkevik Hagen, age 68, was abducted from their home in Fjellhamar, a relatively modest community northeast of Oslo, after Hagen found a ransom note in their house that also contained threats against involving the police. Tom Hagen, who has refused to speak to the news media, was reportedly reluctant to report his wife’s disappearance, and when he did, police launched an undercover investigation that was not publicly revealed for nearly 10 weeks.
The kidnapping has shaken Norway’s business community and political leaders. “This is completely shocking,” said Kristin Skogen Lund, a highly paid executive herself who recently resigned as head of Norway’s national employers’ organization NHO to become chief executive of media company Schibsted, which owns newspapers Aftenposten and VG among many other media outlets.
“This is something new, a type of threat that we’re not accustomed to having to relate to,” Lund told DN. She thinks most business leaders in Norway are aware of the need for security, “but we clearly have been used to living in a society where we don’t need to fear for the security of family members.” She now worries that this type of crime, which included a ransom demand in a crypto currency that’s difficult to trace, will raise fears and reduce the confidence that otherwise pervades Norwegian society: “When you see that this can happen, it does something with us.”
Berit Svendsen, the former Telenor veteran specializing in mobile communication who now works for Norway’s biggest bank DNB, wasn’t surprised that such a kidnapping could occur in Norway. “We have seen that this could come, because there are criminals out there who’ll use whatever means they can,” Svendsen told DN. “That’s just the reality, and it’s terrible.”
Svendsen warned about kidnappings and digital ransom demands at a conference as recently as November. NHO itself, through its co-owned security consultancy Næringslivets sikkerhetsråd (NSR), was warned that key officials with access to lots of money could be victims of so-called “tiger kidnappings,” which are well-planned abductions involving many players and aimed at extorting money. NSR, jointly owned by employer- and business organizations including Finans Norge, Virke, Spekter and the Norwegian Shipowners Association, also offered advice on how wealthy individuals and business owners can protect themselves and their families.
Many were nonetheless deeply disturbed by the kidnapping of Hagen’s wife. “We have seen how criminals have taken over folks’ PCs to make demands for money or bitcoins,” Svendsen said. “When they take the step further to kidnap people, it’s a frightening development.”
Jens Ulltveit-Moe, one of Norway’s wealthiest businessmen with a fortune estimated at NOK 3.5 billion in 2015, told several reporters that he refuses to let criminals change the way he lives. He has large investments in Brazil where his employees there live “protected, fenced-in lives” that he doesn’t want to be forced into himself.
“I’ve taken precautions in Brazil, but find it so uncomfortable that I prefer to simply avoid dangerous areas,” Ulltveit-Moe told DN. His summer home in France was ransacked last summer, but he’s never feared being kidnapped. “What we should fear is fear itself, and I don’t want to fall into that ditch,” he said.
Shipowner Atle Bergshaven, who’s been at the center of a family feud for years, said he and his immediate family have discussed security concerns “but I think there are limits to how much you can protect yourself. It can overshadow the joy of life. It’s terrible for those who are victims.”
Tommy Brøske, the police inspector leading the investigation into Hagen’s kidnapping, has said that all police districts around Norway have been told to evaluate who in their areas could be at risk. “We can’t rule out that other Norwegians can be vulnerable to this,” Brøske told Aftenposten. “If you look beyond Norway’s borders, there have been several cases of this type of kidnapping.” Aftenposten actually charted several of them, from Costa Rica and Brazil to South Africa and Taiwan. All the victims in the cases were eventually released, either after police rescued them or ransom was paid. Hagen, however, has now been held by far the longest (74 days as of Thursday) with a ransom demand that’s reportedly the highest. Police won’t confirm the ransom amount, but newspaper VG has set it at EUR 9 million, equivalent to nearly NOK 90 million. Ransom demands in the other cases have ranged from NOK 250,000 to around NOK 80 million.
Newspaper Aftenposten noted on Thursday how the vast majority of Norway’s business leaders arrived at NHO’s annual conference in Oslo on Wednesday, on their own and either on foot or after taking a bus or tram. Prime Minister Erna Solberg is among those keen to hold on to Norway’s open, informal way of doing things, in a country that prides itself on downplaying differences among people.
“This is a type of crime we don’t want to see in Norway,” Solberg told Aftenposten. She acknowledged that the case “has made a big impression” and disturbed many.
“What’s important now is that the police do their job and follow this up,” Solberg said.