After a lengthy investigation, police in Oslo have finally charged Hege Haukeland Liadal, a Member of Parliament for the Labour Party, with serious fraud for allegedly cheating on her travel expenses. She continues to blame her faulty expense reports on negligence instead of intentional fraud, but still faces anywhere from one to six years in prison.
Liadal been under suspicion for the past 17 months, since newspaper Aftenposten first reported about her questionable expense reports in April 2019. According to Aftenposten, Liadal delivered false travel receipts over a period of several years, wrongly obtained state compensation for private travel and consistently inflated the distance between the Parliament in Oslo and her home in Haugesund, thereby inflating her driving reimbursements.
Her case has attracted widespread media coverage in Norway, not least because it came shortly after another MP, Mazyar Keshvari of the Progress Party, had admitted to abusing the Parliament’s honour system for expense report filing. He wrongly obtained around NOK 450,000 in compensation and later paid it back, but he was indicted, convicted and recently sentenced to 11 months in jail following a final appeal to the Supreme Court.
Slower to act
Police had acted quickly in Keshvari’s case, charging him just a month after his then-alleged transgressions hit the media. Police have worked much more slowly in Liadal’s case, claiming their investigation of the claims against her were “complex and time-consuming.”
Police Inspector Ole Rasmus Knudsen told Aftenposten on Friday that they had to go through around 700 travel receipts while Liadal continued to claim she’d hadn’t intentionally turned in inflated or incorrect expense claims. Keshvari, Knudsen noted, had acknowledged his wrongdoing “early ” in the investigation process.
Liadal, however, has consistently blamed “mistakes and misunderstandings” for what Aftenposten reported were “fictitious” expense claims delivered over a period of at least four years. The charges now filed against her are related to 22 faulty travel expenses filed from 2016 to 2018, according to Knudsen.
Facing jail from one to six years
If found guilty of intentional fraud, she can be sentenced to as many as six years in prison. Her defense attorney, Erik Lea, told Aftenposten on Friday, however, that if prosecutors agree it was fraud based on negligence and she confesses, she’ll face up to a year in prison.
She has already lost her chance to retain her seat in Parliament. The Rogaland chapter of the Labour Party, where Lidadal is a member, confirmed in September that Liadal had not been re-chosen as a candidate for Parliament in next year’s national election.
Cases involving fraud or other crimes among Norwegian politicians are relatively rare. Misuse of public funds, especially when it involves violations of honor systems for elected officials, is considered very serious in Norway as a violation of the public trust, damaging for public confidence in other elected officials and therefore also in the country’s democracy.