Calling it one of the “worst and most shameful days” in his life, one of the conservative Progress Party’s high-profile politicians confessed in court just before the weekend to intentionally defrauding taxpayers. Mazyar Keshvari, a former top politician in the Oslo City Government, also resigned from the party as he faces the longest jail term ever ordered for a Norwegian MP.
“I would again like to apologize to my family, colleagues, the Parliament as an institution, and the Norwegian people,” Keshvari said in court on Friday. “It pains me greatly that I, through my wrongful acts, have caused embarrassment for my family, my colleagues and my position as a Member of Parliament, and haven’t shown myself worthy of the trust I had received.”
Keshvari formally declared himself guilty of having turned in and received reimbursement for 73 fictitious expense reports totalling nearly half-a-million kroner for trips he never took. Newspaper Aftenposten had revealed the first of his expense account irregularities last autumn and he’s been on so-called “sick leave” ever since.
Members of Parliament can’t resign or be fired, but he’s been replaced by a substitute MP, Progress Party veteran Carl I Hagen. That means both of them have been receiving full pay of NOK 987,000 (USD 110,000) a year, at least so far. Keshvari had been serving in Parliament as a substitute himself, ironically enough for Progress Party leader Siv Jensen since she became Finance Minister in 2013.
Paid back the money
Keshvari, age 38, has repaid the roughly NOK 450,000 he received in fraudulent travel expenses and said it was “a certain relief” that he could do so. He nonetheless referred to his day in court as “one of the worst and most shameful days in my life.”
His offenses can result in a prison term of up to six years but there is no real court precedent in his case, since he’s the first MP to ever have committed such fraud. Aftenposten reported that there’s only been two prior cases of a Norwegian MP being sentenced to jail: Astrid Gjertsen of the Conservative Party was convicted in 1986 for turning in fraudulent taxi receipts totalling NOK 32,061 and had to resign as a government minister at the time, but she received only a suspended sentence and she paid the money back. In 2002, MP Lars Rise of the Christian Democrats received a 14-day term for reckless driving and speeding.
Prosecutors noted that Keshvari carried out his fraud during “nearly his entire period in Parliament” and thus used “one of the country’s highest trusted positions to exploit a travel expense reimbursement that was based on an honour system, to enrich himself.”
Prosecutors have only asked for a two-year prison term, however, further reduced by the time Keshvari already has spent in custody and a 20 percent “rebate” for confessing to his crime. That leaves Keshvari facing 18 months in prison. Police and Keshvari’s own defense attorney have suggested just five months in prison, or even less.
Labour MP also under investigation
Keshvari’s sentencing was due on Friday. He isn’t the only MP in trouble, meanwhile, over fraudulent travel expense reimbursements. Police continue to investigate charges that Labour Party MP Hege Haukeland Liadal inflated the driving distance between Parliament in Oslo and her home in Haugesund by what Aftenposten reports is as much as 14,000 kilometers.
Liadal thus received far more mileage reimbursement than she’s owed. After reporting the distance as around 450 kilometers each way from 2013 to 2016, expense reports examined by Aftenposten show that she suddenly increased the distance to 600 kilometers each way. She received NOK 70,700 in mileage reimbursement from 2013-2016. That jumped to NOK 123,000 for the period from 2017 to October 2018 when the discrepancy was discovered.
MP Liadal has claimed she filed expense reports “in good faith” and is “very sorry” that she’s “made mistakes.” She also told Aftenposten that her earlier expense accounts have been “corrected” and that she has paid back the excessive reimbursements she received. Parliament officials, who have since tightened up expense account filing rules, had no comment as the police investigaton continues.