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Thursday, April 18, 2024

Murder suspect appeals custody

UPDATED: Tom Hagen, the billionaire Norwegian businessman charged with murdering his wife and making it look like a kidnapping, is appealing a local court’s order that he be held in custody for at least four weeks while police continue their investigation. Hagen strongly denies any involvement in his wife’s disappearance 18 months ago, while his high-profile defense attorney Svein Holden claims the grounds for his arrest on Tuesday are “extremely flimsy.”

The dramatic arrest on Tuesday of billionaire Tom Hagen has sparked massive media coverage, like here on Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). PHOTO: NRK screen grab

Holden also told reporters after Hagen’s lengthy custody hearing on Wednesday that he thinks Hagen should be released. Holden downplayed police evidence presented at the hearing, which was closed to media coverage.

Police officials countered that the court had nonetheless found that the evidence so far warranted the charges against Hagen, and went along with the police request that he be confined so as not to tamper with any of it. The court also agreed that Hagen could be held in full isolation for the first two weeks of his custody. That’s to prevent him from trying to communicate, perhaps via intermediaries, with others allegedly involved in his wife’s disappearance. The court specified in its order that it’s “probable that there have been more people involved in the case.”

Now, according to a report in newspaper Dagbladet that was confirmed by Holden Thursday morning, it’s up to an appeals court to decide whether the custody order will stand. Hagen, with an estimated net worth of NOK 1.9 billion, has the resources to pay legal expenses and is represented by a prominent attorney accustomed to being in the public eye.

Holden is best known in Norway from when he was a state prosecutor himself and, together with Inga Bejer Engh, handled the mass-murder case against the Norwegian right-wing terrorist Anders Behring Breivik. Holden later went into private practice and has now switched sides entirely, agreeing to defend Hagen after earlier representing the entire Hagen family.

Holden has fended off criticism of his role swap, telling state broadcaster NRK that he had in fact only been engaged by Tom Hagen after Hagen’s wife Anne-Elisabeth was initially believed to have been kidnapped from the couple’s home in the fall of 2018. Even though he repeatedly referred to the Hagen family at press conferences last year, Holden now claims he was officially “only appointed as counsel for Tom Hagen,” so there was no violation of ethical guidelines.

The court in Lillestrøm accepted Holden’s role change and a new attorney, Gard A Lier, has been appointed to represent the interests of the missing Anne-Elisabeth Hagen. Lier, meanwhile, thinks  Holden’s role change remains problematic “because he has represented the victim, her surviving spouse and the children of Anne-Elisabeth Hagen. Suddenly things have changed, and there can be conflicts of interest in such a case.”

The custody hearing itself was held behind closed doors Wednesday afternoon “out of consideration for the ongoing investigation.” Police had to present evidence they’ve collected against Hagen so far and don’t want it known for fear of jeopardizing a probe that’s already gone on for 18 months but changed course entirely. That predictably frustrated Norwegian journalists, who earlier had agreed to remain mum about the case, not even reporting on Anne-Elisabeth Hagen’s initial disappearance after police pleaded that publicity about it could endanger her life. Police didn’t publicly announce what they thought was her abduction on October 31, 2018 until January 9, 2019, and only then did Norwegian media start reporting the case.

Even the now-70-year-old Hagen himself was asked to leave the courtroom on Wednesday when police presented evidence and Holden needed to challenge it. That’s because Holden was granted insight into documentation held by the police on the grounds he not share it with his client before police could confront Hagen with it under questioning.

Attorney Svein Holden is back in the news, now as defense attorney for arrested and charged murder suspect Tom Hagen, a billionaire businessman whose wife disappeared 18 months ago. PHOTO: NRK screen grab

Holden told reporters while heading into the courtroom that there were “extremely flimsy grounds for the police to make an arrest.”  He said he expected his client would be released, while police insisted they needed to keep Hagen in custody so that he could not tamper with evidence. Other legal experts claim that since the police didn’t charge and arrest Hagen until 18 months after the alleged crime was committed, he would already have had plenty of time to tamper with evidence or cover his tracks.

At the end of a long day and the custody hearing that went on for four hours, the local court rejected Holden’s request that his client be released and went along with the police prosecutor’s request that Hagen be kept in jail. Holden claimed he’ll be “confounded” if the state prosecutor ultimately indicts Hagen, while police clearly had enough evidence to convince the court of Hagen’s possible guilt on Wednesday. Much of it was collected after police earlier had secretly obtained court permission to conduct intensive and undercover surveillance of Hagen, and possible bug his home.

All stressed nonetheless on Wednesday that Hagen remains only charged, and remains innocent until proven guilty. He reportedly was willing to undergo questioning and, according to Holden, “strongly” maintains that he “hasn’t had anything to do” with his wife’s disappearance.

Police, meanwhile, are eager to question Hagen in more detail after a short round of questioning that followed his dramatic arrest while on his way to work Tuesday morning. That’s when Hagen went from grieving husband to murder suspect in a case that has attracted widespread public interest.

More details of the couple’s modest lifestyle, given Tom Hagen’s position as one of Norway’s wealthiest men, continue to emerge. Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported, for example, on how a marital agreement between the two from 1987 left Anne-Elisabeth Hagen with only the equivalent of around USD 20,000 in cash, an old car and an undeveloped piece of land zoned for a cabin in Biri.

When she inherited her parents’ home in 1993, the marital agreement was amended so that Tom Hagen also assumed full ownership of the couple’s home at Sloraveien 4 in Lørenskog, which the police are now treating as a murder scene. He did, however, pay for improvements to the house she had inherited that were carefully detailed. That’s also when he gave her a “gift” of NOK 200,000 (now worth around USD 20,000) on the grounds it be placed in a high-rent account of secure funds that were not to be touched until she turned 67. She was 68 when she disappeared.

The couple married in 1969 and would have marked their 50th anniversary last year, but Tom Hagen never transferred any of the vast wealth he later accumulated from investments mostly in real estate and an electric company to his wife. She only earned an average of NOK 150,000 a year herself over the past 10 years (compared to his NOK 4 million on average) and had a personal fortune valued at NOK 37,000 (USD 3,600, at current exchange rates) according to recent tax records.

Hagen saw to it that their finances were kept separate (called særeie in Norwegian), even detailing that each of them would attend to their own needs with their own income. Costs within the home were shared, with Tom Hagen paying bills tied to the support and education of their three children while Anne-Elisabeth Hagen had to “cover her own costs of living from her own income.” The marital agreement reads that if “the two parties should agree that Anne-Elisabeth Hagen would be a stay-at-home housewife in various periods, Tom Hagen would cover her costs in such situations,” but only until their youngest child turned 18.” Then she would have to “pay for her own upkeep.”

‘Rock-hard businessman’ with a temper
Newspaper Aftenposten wrote on Wednesday that Tom Hagen, one of 13 children in a family from Hadeland, has been described by unidentified associates as both “stingy” and even a “tightwad” who’s “not especially social” and lives a modest life characterized by routine. Neighbours have said they could “set their watches” by when Tom Hagen would leave his home at 8:15am every morning and drive in his small Ford Focus car to his office, around 10 minutes away.

He’s also been called “extremely detail-oriented” and “structured,” a “rock-hard businessman” with what could be “a violent temper,” also a “workaholic” but not very digitally competent. That’s interesting given how the alleged kidnappers initially demanded ransom payments in the fall of 2018 to be paid in crypto-currency over what even police called a complicated digital platform.

Headed for his hytte
Hagen is said to have headed for his hytte in the mountain area of Kvitfjell (where he was a pioneer developer before and after the Winter Olympics at Lillehammer in 1994) in the period after his wife disappeared. When the Christmas season set in, neighbours said a star was hung in the window and snow was cleared from the grounds of the family home.

Police now believe there never was any kidnapping, that they’ve been willfully misled in the investigation into Anne-Elisabeth Hagen’s disappearance, and that Tom Hagen either murdered her or contributed to her murder. He vehemently denies that. No body or remains have been found, and that’s now a top priority for police, as is tracking down and arresting suspected accomplices.

One thing is clear, that Anne-Elisabeth Hagen’s disappearance set off one of Norway’s most lengthy and demanding criminal investigations ever. It has now entered a new phase and likely won’t be resolved for months. Berglund



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