Another ex-minister took the stand

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One of the most bizarre court cases in Norwegian history has entered its fourth week, after another government minister was on the witness stand testifying against the live-in partner of her former justice minister colleague Tor Mikkel Wara. Prosecutors claim Wara’s partner Laila Bertheussen set off a chain of events including threats and vandalism against their own home, and thus threatened Norway’s democracy.

Ingvil Smines Tybring-Gjedde, shown here when she was still a government minister last year, has now testified against the live-in partner of her former colleague, Justice Minister Tor Mikkel Wara. PHOTO: Justis- og beredskapsdepartementet

The prosecution keeps building its case against Bertheussen, who firmly denies having anything to do with the events of late 2018 and early 2019 that grabbed headlines and deeply worried the government. When a justice minister was under attack, the entire government was as well.

Things got worse when Wara’s government colleague Ingvil Smines Tybring-Gjedde and her husband, a Member of Parliament, also received threats in the mail. Prosecutors claim those threats also came from Bertheussen, who allegedly tried to make it look like they were coming from anti-racists tied to a theater production she didn’t like.

Witness for the prosecution
Tybring-Gjedde took the stand last week and proved to be an important witness for the prosecution. She had just been appointed government minister for (like Wara) Norway’s right-wing Progress Party when her home was also threatened in Februray 2019. She shared Bertheussen’s dislike of the theater production that had made them look like racists, but also marvelled over why Bertheussen never seemed scared by the threats that ended up landing in their mailboxes and driveways.

Tybring-Gjedde’s description of Bertheussen’s behaviour was of most interest to the prosecution, and bolstered their case. She began to suspect that Bertheussen “was riding two horses,” and was behind all the threats and vandalism herself.

“She was unusually calm,” Tybring-Gjedde testified. “The feeling that something wasn’t right got stronger as the threats continued against their residence. Bertheussen seemed unaffected.” She later added that “I thought it was very strange that she wasn’t afraid at all,” and was surprised that Bertheussen hadn’t accepted the security measures proposed and offered by police and intelligence agency PST.

Not friends now
Bertheussen fired back in her own defense that she simply wasn’t “a frightened little goose” like she thought Tybring-Gjedde was. The two former friends and Progress Party allies seemed to be attacking each other in court, not least when Tybring-Gjedde testified that she’d begun to think that Bertheussen was behind all the attacks that caused such a public fuss over a period of nearly four months, and forced Wara’s resignation as justice minister after Bertheussen was arrested.

Bertheussen has, in recent weeks, also been tied to the handwriting on, and composition of, threatening notes sent to both her own home and Tybring-Gjedde’s. Bertheussen called the work of handwriting analysts “absurd,” and has dismissed any significance behind her ties to evidence police found in the Wara-Bertheussen home including felt pens, a copying machine and even a folder of stamps that police believe were used in both the vandalism and threats in the mail.

Also violated quarantine rules
On Tuesday prosecutors tried to also tie Bertheussen to anonymous letters sent from Sweden to her defense attorney’s office, which led to information that she’d been in Sweden herself, in violation of Corona quarantine regulations. Prosecutors have also noted how she refused to undergo more police questioning after seeing the evidence police would be presenting against her.

It’s all shaping up as a personal and political tragedy, that unwittingly or not ruined Wara’s political career and publicly embarrassed both the Progress Party and the government. Tybring-Gjedde testified that she had wanted to warn Prime Minister Erna Solberg of her suspicions that Wara’s own partner was behind all the threats.

The trial continued with Bertheussen’s defense attorney calling all the police evidence circumstantial and suggesting that prosecutors had actually provided Bertheussen with some alibis. He’ll be presenting his defense later, while Former Justice Minister Tor Mikkel Wara, now back in the PR business, is standing by his partner of 26 years.

NewsInEnglish.no/Nina Berglund