‘Unique’ trial aims to protect democracy

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Technical evidence will be crucial in the state’s case against the live-in partner of Norway’s former justice minister, Tor Mikkel Wara. She’s charged with endangering democracy by allegedly making false threats against her own husband and two other high-ranking conservative politicians, and making it look like they came from anti-racists or other political opponents.

Former Justice Minister Tor Mikkel Wara was at the center of a media storm in late 2018 and early 2019, when a series of threats were lodged against him, his home and colleagues in the conservative Progress Party. In a stunning turn of events, police ended up charging Wara’s own live-in partner with making the threats and making it look like they came from anti-racists. PHOTO: Justisdepartementet

Laila Anita Bertheussen, who has lived with Wara for many years, now faces a lengthy prison term for allegedly vandalizing the couple’s own home in Oslo, tagging both the house and their parked car with a swastika and a misspelled word for “racists,” and starting a fire in the couple’s car while it was parked outside their home. The attacks shocked the government and many Norwegians, police took them seriously and mounted extra security around Wara as a three-month investigation proceeded.

The case took an even more shocking turn when Wara’s own partner was charged with being behind the attacks. Bertheussen is also believed to have sent threatening letters in the mail not only to her own husband but also to two of his colleagues in the right-wing Progress Party: Member of Parliament Christian Tybring-Gjedde and his wife Ingvild Smines Tybring-Gjedde, a state secretary at the time who later served as Norway’s minister in charge of national preparedness.

The vandalism and threats occurred between December 6, 2018, when the first threatening letter to Wara appeared in the couple’s postbox, and March 2019, when Wara resigned as justice minister after his samboer (partner) was charged. Prosecutors contend the wave of threats and vandalism was all part of a ruse by Bertheussen to make it look as though Wara and the Tybring-Gjeddes were being threatened by left-wing anti-racists, Islamists or, more specifically, artists behind a small theater production at the time called Ways of Seeing.

Outraged defendant
The play featured the homes of several public officials, including Wara’s and Bertheussen’s, as part of portraying “networks” that allegedly are making Norway “a more racist society.” It outraged Bertheussen, who called the play an invasion of her family’s privacy and filed a formal complaint about the play with the police. Prosecutors believe she targeted the director of the play, Pia Maria Roll, not least after one of the threats arriving at the Wara-Bertheussen home demanded that the police complaint be withdrawn. Police later shelved Bertheussen’s complaint against the play, angering her even more. Prosecutors believe her motive in the alleged attacks was revenge against those behind the play.

Bertheussen has firmly denied all the charges against her and has one of Norway’s most high-profile defense attorneys, Per Christian Elden, representing her. Both Wara, the Tybring-Gjeddes, other members of the conservative Progress Party and even Prime Minister Erna Solberg (who led the government coalition that included Progress at the tie) were all highly critical of the play themselves, and sympathetic towards Wara and his partner.

Oslo’s county courthouse (Oslo Tinghuset) is the site once again of a trial said to be without parallel in Norway. The defendant is the live-in partner of former Justice Minister Tor Mikkel Wara, and she’s charged with lodging threats against him and making it look like the blame came from anti-racists. PHOTO: Tingretten

They were all as shocked as everyone else when police arrested Bertheussen and filed many of the same charges against her that earlier have been filed against suspected terrorists in Norway. Police and prosecutors take any threats against elected officials very seriously, not least the justice minister, and Wara had attracted widespread public sympathy in the midst of broad media coverage of the various threats made against him over several months. Wara was shocked by the charges against his long-time domestic partner as well. He resigned not only because it became impossible to carry out his job with such serious charges looming against his partner, but to look after her as well. Wara himself had also referred to the threats lodged against him as “an attack on our democracy,” but that was before his partner was charged with being behind them.

Her subsequent indictment on the charges in January and the lengthy trial now underway have been branded as both “unique” and nothing short of sensational in Norway. Newspaper Aftenposten has reported that prosecutors will present a wide range of technical evidence against Bertheussen, including data from her own computers showing how she’d tracked down information on the theater director and her family. Handwriting experts have also tied Bertheussen to the threatening notes and even to the tagging on the wall of the couple’s home.

Among the strongest evidence, though, is data showing how an outdoor security camera operated from inside the couple’s home had been turned off just before the fire started in the couple’s car, during a night (March 10, 2019) when Bertheussen was home alone. The door to the couple’s home was then opened, according to an alarm system log. The fire began before the home’s front door was closed and the security camera turned on again. That made it appear, reported Aftenposten, that the fire was an inside job.

Problematic for Progress
Bertheussen’s mobile phone also provided the police investigation with information about her own movements, according to prosecutor Frederik Ranke. He told state broadcaster NRK that evidence will be presented of movements that police believe are relevant to the case.

Defense attorney Elden has so far had little comment on the charges or “the various scenario hypotheses” presented by police intelligence agency PST, which has been highly involved in the case because of its ramifications for national security. Wara and the Tybring-Gjeddes have been called to testify, with the entire case shaping up as problematic for their Progress Party just a year before national elections.

Media commentators have been highly critical of Progress and Prime Minister Solberg, for initially blaming the play, its director and actors. Newspaper Dagsavisen described them on Monday as the only certain victims in the case, and suggested that official apologies were in order. Solberg was out of the country this week, on a rare trip during Corona times to Lithuania.

NewsInEnglish.no/Nina Berglund