The lengthy and sometimes shocking trial of a former county governor wrapped up this week, with prosecutors demanding that he be sentenced to five-and-half years in prison. They claim he abused the power of his position to gain sexual favours from young asylum seekers.
The trial that began June 11 ended up as a battle over credibility in the Nord-Troms courthouse in Tromsø. It boiled down to veteran politician Svein Ludvigsen’s word against those of three refugees he’d encountered through his position as the king’s representative at the local level.
The three young men have all, independently of one another, given alarmingly similar accounts under oath of how Ludvigsen seemed to take an interest in them, offered to help them and made them believe he had the power to either grant them citizenship or send them out of the country. All he allegedly wanted in return was sex with the young men, one of whom is mildly retarded and all of whom came from countries where homosexuality is taboo or even illegal.
Two of the young men lived in asylum centers in Troms County that were under the jurisdiction of the county and Ludvigsen’s office as county governor. A third worked as a janitor in Ludvigsen’s office in Tromsø, and testified that Ludvigsen seemed to take a fancy to him while he was cleaning his office. Testimony also was delivered from various social workers at the asylum centers, who told of Ludvigsen making unusual, spontaneous visits, specifically seeking out the then-teenagers in question and spending time with them alone in their rooms.
Caught in a lie
Ludvigsen’s own testimony during the trial revealed that he lied under police questioning for months, claiming he’d never had sex with any of the young men. Shortly after his trial began, however, he changed his story and confirmed he’d had sex on three occasions with one of the plaintiffs. He continues to deny he had sex with the other two.
Why did he lie? “He was afraid of the truth, he felt enormous shame, he feared a social dive and that his infidelity to his wife would be revealed,” argued his defense attorney Kai Vaag after the prosecution’s closing arguments earlier this week. “It was impossible for him to talk about this,” Vaag claimed in court. “The fact that he didn’t want to be open about his own sexuality doesn’t mean he tried to hide having done something illegal.”
The defense also tried repeatedly to discredit the three young men, “in the hopes of strengthening Ludvigsen’s,” wrote newspaper Aftenposten’s court commentator Inge D Hanssen. They demanded full acquittal on all counts of the 72-year-old Ludvigsen, a former Member of Parliament and deputy leader of Norway’s Conservative Party. His abuse-of-power trial has been called the most serious since those held after World War II involving Norwegians who sided with occupying Nazi German officials.
Compensation claims lodged
The prosecution retorted that “it’s Svein Ludvigsen who has a credibility problem, not the plaintiffs.” They note that he initially outright lied, then changed his story in a manner that seems conveniently in line with evidence against him.
Attorneys for the three young men are now seeking compensation for being victims of a high-ranking public official who abused his power and forced them into compromising situations. One claimed Ludvigsen all but took control over his life: “If he didn’t do as Ludvigsen said, he thought he’d be sent out of the country,” claimed attorney Gunhild Bergan.
Since he lied earlier, Hanssen questioned why and whether the court should believe him now. A verdict is due next week.