The conviction of a former government minister for the Conservative Party, on charges he abused his power to exploit vulnerable asylum seekers, can further further hurt the credibility of Norway’s elected leaders. It comes after nearly two years of revelations about political misbehaviour at the highest levels.
Several Members of Parliament, for example, have admitted to and apologized for sexual harassment, filing fradulent travel expenses, revealing confidential information and even suggesting sexual escapades with minors. The cases have made headlines and brought down several powerful politicians, but none so far has faced a criminal conviction like the one handed down this week against a former deputy leader of the Conservative Party, Svein Ludvigsen.
Prime Minister Erna Solberg, leader of the Conservatives, was careful in commenting on the verdict against her party colleague Ludvigsen, who served 12 years in Parliament and nine years as fylkesmann (county governor) of Troms. Ludvigsen has been referred to as “the king of Troms” and, as county governor, literally was the monarch’s representative in the northern region of Norway.
Reaction to his conviction on charges of abusing the power of his position to gain sexual favours from asylum seekers under the county’s care was swift. “This is a serious case,” Solberg told VG. Young male asylum seekers who came to Norway alone had testified that Ludvigsen even told them he was “best friends” with the king and a good friend of Prime Minister Solberg. They were led to believe he and his connections could help them secure residence permission in Norway and eventually citizenship, and that he could have them deported if they didn’t consent to having sex with him.
Solberg added, however, that it “wasn’t natural” for her to comment further on Ludvigsen’s conviction and fire-year prison term since it hasn’t yet taken effect. Ludvigsen’s defense attorney quickly reported that Ludvigsen planned to file an appeal.
Elisabeth Vik Aspaker, another former government minister for the Conservatives who succeeded Ludgivsen as county governor in Troms and soon Finnmark, said the case “has been and is difficult” for the role of county governor and its support staff. She also declined comment on his actual conviction but told VG that “what’s important for us moving forward is that we take care of our employees and the job we must do for the residents of Troms and Finnmark.”
The secretary general of Norway’s organization for asylum seekers (NOAS), Ann-Magrit Austena, said the case show how vulnerable and helpless asylum seekers can be. Arild Humlen, a lawyer who often represents asylum seekers and refugees in Norway, said the case amounted to an “enormous fall” for the defendant. He was surprised that such a high-ranking person as Ludvigsen could carry on with exploitation of refugees over several years. “You’d think this would have been impossible,” Humlen told VG.
“This is very serious,” Ole Magnus Strømmen, lawyer for one of the defendants, told newspaper VG. “It’s very seldom that such a serious case comes up against such a powerful person in such a high position.” He thinks the outcome proves that Norway has a strong and independent judicial system that functions well.