Svein Ludvigsen was once one of Norway’s most trusted top politicians. On Thursday he admitted in court to having had sex with a young male asylum seeker whom prosecutors believe Ludvigsen exploited. The former government minister insisted the sex was consensual and that no coercion was involved.
“Yes I have had sexual contact with (the refugee),” Ludvigsen, age 72, testified on the third day of his trial on charges he abused his power as the governor of Troms County at the time. “But only in Oslo. It wasn’t to the extent he (the refugee) described in his testimony (on Tuesday and Wednesday). All three occasions have been voluntary, without any force or threats.”
The now-retired Ludvigsen is a former deputy leader of the Conservative Party, Member of Parliament and Fisheries Minister. He was indicted last year for allegedly misusing his position to obtain sexual favours from three young men who had arrived in Norway alone and were awaiting decisions on their asylum applications.
The charges that a high-ranking Norwegian official could have taken advantage of a refugee’s vulnerability shocked fellow politicians and those working with refugees. Police arrested Ludvigsen early last year and ultimately indicted him after receiving complaints from three separate young asylum seekers who believed Ludvigsen had the power to grant both residence permission and citizenship in Norway. Prosecutors have said that they also all feared Ludvigsen could arrange for their deportation as well.
“He told me he was friends with the king,” the first of the three refugees due to testify at Ludvigsen’s trial said in the courtroom in Tromsø on Tuesday. He was 17 years old when Ludvigsen, after meeting him at an asylum center when he was county governor, invited him to his hytte (holiday cabin) for the first time and allegedly made sexual advances. He testified that he thought Ludvigsen had the power to grant and revoke both residence permission and citizenship in Norway, and submitted to Ludvigsen’s advances for fear of being sent out of the country.
Proposed meeting with Erna Solberg
The second of the three refugee plaintiffs offered similar testimony on Wednesday, adding that Ludvigsen had also said he could introduce the man who was working as cleaning help in his office to Prime Minister Erna Solberg. “His acquaintance and contact with Erna Solberg gave me even more confidence in him,” he testified, adding that he was in a “difficult life situation” at the time. His sexual contact with Ludvigsen occurred mostly when he agreed to go out driving with Ludvigsen, with Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reporting that the first alleged assault occurred while Ludvigsen’s car was parked along a road in Tromsø
Ludvigsen firmly denies the criminal charges against him that could result in a 12-year fail term. He claims the sex he had with the first of the three asylum seekers testifying was entirely consensual and at the initiative of the defendant. NRK noted how Ludvigsen went into detail about three sexual encounters, while denying the refugee’s claims he been coerced into sex at Ludvigsen’s holiday home or elsewhere in Troms County.
Ludvigsen changed his story
It’s the first time Ludvigsen has admitted to the sexual encouters that he earlier had told police never occurred. He’s only changing his story now, he said, because he was in a state of shock after being arrested in January 2018 and questioned by police. He admitted in court on Thursday that what he initially told police “was not correct,” but then he felt he’d “painted myself into a corner, and couldn’t get out.”
Ludvigsen, who’s married and has both children and grandchildren, testified that “I can now see that I was my own worst enemy.”
Olav Rønneberg, who specializes in covering criminal cases for NRK, called Ludvigsen’s testimony on Thursday “a turning point” in the what’s been called the most serious case brought against an elected official in Norway since the postwar trials following Norway’s occupation during World War II.
“But it’s important to remember that he believes this (sexual) contact was limited and occurred voluntarily,” Rønneberg said. “He has given the court a reason for why he didn’t say this under police questioning, but it’s an open question whether the court will believe him.”
Rønneberg described Ludvigsen as being “on the offensive” during his testimony on Tuesday. He admitted to also having viewed homosexual pornography and that he has had consensual sexual relations with other men who aren’t named in the indictment.
He continues to deny the abuse of power for which he’s under indictment. His trial, which is receiving wide media coverage in Norway, is due to continue for another two weeks.