UPDATED: An appeals court in Oslo has sentenced one of the Norwegian capital’s most respected former police officers to 21 years in prison, the country’s maximum jail term generally reserved for murderers and terrorists. That’s how seriously the country’s legal system has judged Eirik Jensen, because he was a high-ranking public servant found to have betrayed the public’s trust.
Jensen immediately appealed, but can only hope Norway’s Supreme Court may reduce his sentence by a year or two. The high court won’t hear any appeal regarding his guilt or innocence at this point, only the term of his punishment or whether there were any questionable legal technicalities during his second lengthy appeals trial last fall. Jensen was also convicted by the Oslo County Court back in 2017, and Friday’s verdict in the appeals court (which came after an appeal in 2018 ended with a mistrial early last year) was even more crushing.
Jensen was also immediately taken into custody during the first break in court proceedings on Friday, which included the lengthy oral reading of his 83-page conviction. He’d been free pending trial since his initial arrest in February 2014 on charges of corruption and contributing to the smuggling of 13.9 tons of hash into Norway. It was clear that prosecutors and police, who’ve also been harshly criticized for failing to halt Jensen’s errant ways years ago, did not want the public to think Jensen was getting any special treatment.
“It could have been at odds with the public’s sense of justice if a corrupt police officer sentenced to 21 years in prison was allowed to go free until a final verdict is in place (pending Jensen’s appeal),” wrote Inge D Hanssen, legal commentator for newspaper Aftenposten, on Saturday. The internal affairs division of the Oslo Police District may also have feared that Jensen would try to avoid punishment if allowed to remain free.
Released on Saturday, then held again
The Oslo County Court disagreed with that on Saturday, however, releasing Jensen from custody after he’d spent his first night in jail in six years. Prosecutors and police internal affairs officials immediately appealed his release, resulting in Jensen being sent back to prison until the appeal is heard on Monday. The appeal wasn’t acted upon until Tuesday, when judges ended up granting the prosecutors’ request and ordered Jensen held for at least four weeks until his formal incarceration is arranged.
While Jensen was sentenced to 21 years in prison, minus the 111 days he spent in custody following his initial arrest in 2014, his partner in crime and so-called “hash baron” Gjermund Cappelen was sentenced to 13 years in prison. That’s because Cappelen turned out to be more than one of Jensen’s informants, and was the one who ultimately blew the whistle on Jensen and won a rebate on his own jail term for drug smuggling.
The appeals court made it clear in its verdict that Cappelen’s testimony during all the trials held on the matter clarified the corruption and drug charges against Jensen. The court believed Cappelen, not Jensen, and since Cappelen has already been in prison since December 2013, he’ll get credit for jail time already served and be a free man long before Jensen.
Sentence almost as bad as Breivik’s
Jensen, meanwhile, was sentenced to the same 21-year term, albeit without the clause that could keep him incarcerated for life, as mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik (who bombed Norway’s government headquarters in 2011, killed 77 people and wounded scores more) and, more recently, Philip Manshaus, an avowed racist who murdered his Chinese-born step sister and then tried (unsuccessfully) to massacre Muslims at a mosque in Bærum last year.
Questions may arise over whether Jensen’s crimes were as horrific, but Norway’s legal system doesn’t differentiate over how many people were killed (no multiple murder counts are calculated – a defendant can kill one person or 77 and receive the same sentence) and Jensen was a police officer now determined in at least two lengthy trials to have gone bad.
Investigation of police leadership looms
The entire, lengthy case has been a major embarrassment for the Oslo Police, and multiple calls have gone out once again for a full, external investigation of how Jensen could have gotten away with unorthodox means of dealing with Cappelen for so long.
“The conviction of Eirik Jensen is extremely serious,” Lene Vågslid, leader of the Parliament’s justice committee, told news bureau NTB on Friday. “Jensen has abused the public’s confidence and it’s deeply worrisome that this could happen. Confidence in the police is generally high in Norway, and it must continue to be.”
Vågslid’s Labour Party, the Conservative party and Norway’s police officers’ union (Politiets Fellesforbund) were all calling for an investigation heading into the weekend. “There has to be an external investigation,” the leader of the police union, Sigve Bolstad, told newspaper VG. He called the Jensen case one of the most serious within the police since World War II, when many police officers complied with Norway’s Nazi German occupiers and were later held responsible.
Calls have gone out for an external investigation of the Oslo Police District’s managment earlier as well, but Progress Party justice ministers in charge at the time preferred to wait until a conviction was in place. Newspaper Aftenposten also editorialized on Saturday that now an investigation must begin, and quickly.
“It’s nothing short of spectacular that such a prominent figure as Eirik Jensen has shown himself to be a crook,” Aftenposten wrote on Saturday. “But the conviction is also a strong criticism of the Oslo Police District.” It called the lack of internal control “amazing,” also that Jensen was “allowed to operate for so long in defiance of instructions,” including that he met with Cappelen alone and didn’t log their visits.
“The leadership (in the Oslo Police District) protected and accepted (the tactics used by) Jensen,” Aftenposten wrote. “They must also bear some of the responsibility for allowing Eirik Jensen to operate unfettered with Gjermund Cappelen.”