Labour mayor faces corruption charges

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Another Norwegian politician is in legal trouble, after the Mayor of Nittedal north of Oslo was charged with serious corruption after several months of a secret investigation. Hilde Thorkildsen of the Labour Party insists, however, that she’s done nothing wrong.

Hilde Thorkildsen of the Labour Party, shown wearing the traditional mayor’s chain for Nittedal. She was elected mayor in 2011, the same year the disputed housing project’s development firm was established. PHOTO: Nittedal Rådjus/Ole Christian Eklund

Nittedal’s mayor was called in on Tuesday for questioning by Norway’s white collar crime unit Økokrim. Her defense attorney is none other than Geir Lippestad, also a former politician for the Labour Party who recently served in Oslo city government. Lippestad is best known for defending the right-wing extremist who attacked a Labour-led government on July 22, 2011 and killed 77 people in an Oslo bombing and massacre on the island of Utøya.

Lippestad told reporters that Thorkildsen was cooperating with police and “certain that once Økokrim has gone through all the documents and understands the case, it will be dropped. She hasn’t done anything wrong.”

Controversial housing project
The case involves Thorkildsen’s involvement in a major and controversial housing project planned for an area of Nittedal just north of the town center. The area has been the scene of a building boom of sorts in recent years, with lots of its hills and forests being developed into both single-family and multi-family housing projects.

At issue is whether Thorkildsen has received any advantages from the project called Bjørnholtlia that Thorkildsen is said to have eagerly supported. It originally included 350 homes, but after objections from county officials it was cut back to 300 homes to be built over several phases.

Local newspapers Romerikes Blad and Varingen have reported that investigators at Økokrim were tipped about a particular “transaction” involving NOK 100,000 that was invested in one of Thorkildsen’s own companies in 2014. It’s tied to one of the three others charged in the project, all of whom are involved in local business and, now, real estate development.

‘Out sick’ since raid in February
Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported on Wednesday that other local Nittedal officials were told not to reveal the investigation, which apparently kicked into gear with a raid on Thorkildsen’s home and office last February. Thorkildsen then went out on sick leave “and hasn’t been functioning as mayor” since, according to her substitute mayor, Inge Solli of the Liberal Party.

“This is a sad case both for Hilde Thorkildsen and for the municipality,” Solli told DN. “It’s important that the authorities are the ones to make this public. We have up to now been told that the investigation was secret and that they (police) didn’t want it made public. We have respected that.”

It wasn’t until May 8 that her fellow political leaders in Nittedal were told that she’d been charged for corruption, Helge Fossum of the Progress Party told DN. He is now functioning as acting deputy mayor, while the housing project itself was described last year by the now-charged developers as “delayed” but expected to “enter a new phase in 2020-2021.” None of the three others charged in the case have commented yet.

NewsInEnglish.no/Nina Berglund