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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Justice minister’s partner charged

UPDATED: In a sensational turn of events, Norway’s state police intelligence service PST announced Thursday afternoon that it finally has a suspect in the series of threats made recently against Justice Minister Tor Mikkel Wara and his family. The suspect is Wara’s own live-in partner, and she now faces up to a year in prison.

PST chief Benedicte Bjørnland announcing the charges filed against the justice minister’s partner. PHOTO: NRK screen grab

PST chief Benedicte Bjørnland all but set off a political bomb herself with her announcement about who police now think is behind at least the latest threat that has severely shaken both the government and Members of Parliament. Prime Minister Erna Solberg, the leaders of other parties and the vice-mayor of Oslo have been among those expressing sympathy and support for Wara and his family. Politicians from the left and the right have branded the threats, which have included vandalism and, most recently, Wara’s car being set ablaze while parked outside the family home in Oslo, as a threat to Norway’s democracy itself.

“We suspect that the (person charged) set the fire herself,” Bjørnland said at a press conference at PST’s headquarters. Now it appears the threats were trumped up and that neither Wara nor his family have been in any danger.

Arousing false suspicion
“PST has today charged Tor Mikkel Wara’s samboer (live-in partner) Laila Anita Bertheussen for violation of the criminal code paragraph 225, for doing something that awakens suspicion that a crime has been committed when it hasn’t,” Bjørnland said. Bertheussen was arrested earlier on Thursday, charged and has undergone questioning. PST doesn’t think it’s necessary, however, to subject her to a custody hearing and ask a court to keep her in confinement.

One of Norway’s most high-profile defense attorneys, John Christian Elden, emerged Thursday night as representing Bertheussen. He told NRK that Bertheussen denies all the charges against her. “She’s very clear that police are on the wrong track,” Elden wrote in a text message to NRK. He also told reporters that Bertheussen has answered all questions posed by the police and given PST access to information that she believes will clear her.

PST’s charges apply specifically to the fire that was set late Saturday night in the family’s car, but Bjørnland made it clear that the suspected arson is also being viewed in connection with all the earlier alleged threats made against the justice minister and his partner. They have included tagging that seemed to accuse Wara of being racist, at least two bomb threats and an earlier case of attempted arson. Her alleged falsk forklaring (literally, false clarification of what caused this past weekend’s fire) is punishable with fines or up to a year in prison.

Motivation unclear
Police believe her goal was to give the impression that the fire was set by one or more unknown assailants. Since some of the tagging included misspellings of the Norwegian word for a racist, others have speculated that it could have been made to look as though immigrants were behind it. Bjørnland stressed that police continue to investigate the earlier incidents also, and that their investigation was wide open.

The biggest unanswered question is what may have motivated Bertheussen, who has lived with Wara for 24 years, to mount allegedly false threats. She has earlier claimed that while Wara has had a high-profile political and public relations career, she has never sought the public spotlight and prized her anonymity.

Bertheussen had, however, publicly objected late last year to an Oslo theater company’s production of a play called “Ways of Seeing,” that had featured video of the homes of Wara and other conservative Progress Party politicians. She sought charges herself against the play’s director and Black Box Theater for invasion of privacy, eventually setting off public debate over the theater’s portrayal of some of Norway’s most conservative politicians versus the theater’s right to freedom of expression.

That set off speculation Thursday that Bertheussen’s anger over the play may have led to an elaborate series of events made to look as though they were motivated by the play’s contents. Prime Minister Solberg warned against such speculation, urging the media and public “to let the police do their work” and get to the bottom of the case. Berglund



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