Norwegian police have revealed a fairly brisk illegal weapons trade, after finding and seizing stashes of more than 2,000 firearms believed to stem from illegal sales. Several of the nearly 70 people charged in the case so far have worked within the armed forces or the police themselves.
Police for Norway’s southeastern police district in Tønsberg disclosed the results on Wednesday of a four-year investigation into illegal weapon sales. The investigation, called “Operation Bonanza,” was launched after police in Telemark seized an unusually large amount of weapons in 2015.
“Further investigation raised concerns about a large number of illegal weapon sales,” said the leader of the Sør-Øst (southeastern) Police District’s division for investigation and intelligence gathering, Lena Reif, at a press conference held in Tønsberg Wednesday morning.
Reif told reporters that the goal then was “to identify people who were central to the illegal arms trade and involved in handling illegal weapons.” The probe revealed “deficient routines” for handling weapons within both Norway’s state police and defense department (Forsvaret).
“Collectors and traders have taken advantage of loopholes and weaknesses in the police’s own weapons management,” Reif said. In some cases, weapons went astray via fictitious destruction of weapons.
Investigataors found, for example, 122 weapons that had been registered by the military as having been destroyed. Another 54 weapons were uncovered that should have been destroyed. Police have found and seized from one to as many as 600 weapons in various cases.
Those involved in the illegal weapons trade range from “collectors who have a genuine interest in weapons” to criminals and cases where the investigators were “unable to determine the motivation for acquiring weapons,” according to Skule Worpvik, leader of the special investigation.
Overseas trade, too
Worpvik and his colleagues think some of the weapons seized were bound for markets abroad. Some were even tagged with prices in euros. Police didn’t disclose specific locations of where or how the weapons were actually seized, with the seizures having arisen individually over the past four years and resulting in individual court cases and convictions. Seizures were made all over Southern Norway, with assistance from the Oslo, Øst, Agder and Innland police districts.
Some of the seizures and subsequent arrests have involved licensed weapons collectors, while Police Inspector Kjell-Johan Abrahamsen said several cases have involved military personnel and the police themselves. That’s resulted in the police’s own internal affairs divisions getting involved as well.
Abrahamsen said more than 1,800 unregistered weapons have been seized and 17 people have been convictged. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that two men have been sentenced to prison terms of three years and six months but are under appeal. The military has subsequently “changed its routines” for destruction of weapons, while police districts are strengthening their own weapons management.