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Thursday, February 22, 2024

Ex-minister’s partner guilty as charged

The long-time live-in partner of former Justice Minister Tor Mikkel Wara was found guilty on Friday of making repeated and false threats, not only against him but also against two of his political colleagues in the conservative Progress Party. The Oslo County Court equated Laila Bertheussen’s offenses, which she also tried to  pin on others, as an attack on democracy, and sentenced her to one year and eight months in jail.

Tor Mikkel Wara of the Progress Party had to resign as Norway’s justice minister in charge of the police and the courts, when his own live-in partner, Laila Bertheussen, was charged with making false threats against him and other top politicians including one of Wara’s fellow ministers. Bertheussen, who has refused to allow her photo to be taken in court, was convicted and sentenced on Friday to 20 months in jail for plotting and carrying out what the court equated to an “attack on democracy.” PHOTO: Statsministerens kontor

The unanimous decision by the court’s panel of judges climaxes an extraordinary and often bizarre case that boiled down, in the court’s view, to Bertheussen’s quest for attention, not least on those behind the small Black Box Theater in Oslo. It had mounted a performance in late 2018 called “Ways of Seeing” that criticized the conservative government’s asylum and immigration policies, and portrayed the homes of Wara and other high-ranking public officials.

The performance infuriated Bertheussen, who mightily objected to its inclusion of an image of the home she shares with Wara. She thus, according to the court, mounted a series of what looked like attacks on their home that eventually involved tagging, other forms of vandalism, fires and threats delivered in the mail.

Bertheussen was also found guilty of sending threats in the mail to another of Wara’s fellow government ministers at the time, Ingvil Smines Tybring-Gjedde, and her husband, Member of Parliament Christian Tybring-Gjedde. Both represent, like Wara, the conservative Progress Party, which has a long record of anti-immigration policy and campaigns to limit the numbers of asylum seekers allowed refuge in Norway. The entire case became uncomfortable and, as Ingvil Tybring-Gjedde said, “demanding” for the party., especially when she had to testify in court as well.

Case cost justice minister his job
The 55-year-old defendant, who firmly denied the eight counts against her, had both criticized and ridiculed the police, its intelligence unit PST and prosecutors as they carried out their investigation. Wara, who as justice minister held political responsibilty for all three units, felt compelled to resign his post after Bertheussen was charged as being behind the attacks which he, too, had called “an attack on democracy” shortly after they began.

The attacks had baffled police, not least since security around Wara and at his home was so high. They ultimately concluded they had to be part of an “inside job,” leading to intense scrutiny of Bertheussen’s movements, her online activity, mobile phone communication and even personal devices and apps that counted her footsteps. Some of the surveillance equipment mounted around the house turned out to have been turned off for short periods just prior to new vandalism or threats, and it wasn’t all attributed to technical difficulties.

‘No doubts’ about a ‘thorough’ investigation
Prosecutors had no “concrete evidence” or DNA to present in court, according to Bertheussen’s defense counsel who attacked what they claimed to be merely circumstantial evidence. The court, however, which spent many weeks in deliberations after her lengthy trial last fall, found both motive, opportunity and rejected her high-profile defense attorney John Christian Elden’s claim that the police investigation was one-sided.

“We are not in doubt that the case has been unusually thoroughly investigated,” ruled Judge Yngvild Thue, adding that there was no basis for Elden’s claims that investigators had “tunnel vision.” Bertheussen was also found to have acted in a “pre-meditated” manner in the case that also had shaken the entire government. Prime Minister Erna Solberg and her former finance minister, Progress Party leader Siv Jensen, had expressed shock after Wara’s partner was charged and later indicted.

Bertheussen filing quick appeal
Bertheussen appeared in court alone on Friday, without Wara who’d remained by her side throughout her trial. Wara’s own attorney offered no explanation for his absence and it was unclear how he was following events as the court sentenced his partner to nearly what prosecutors sought. Wara returned to his post in the large public relations firm First House after resigning as justice minister, but was clearly on leave while attending every day of her trial that began in early September and ran until late October.

The court, according to legal commentators, simply didn’t believe Bertheussen,  who’d also mocked prosecutors during her trial and regularly carried handbags with various critical or insulting messages on them. Black Box Theater officials, who’d felt under attack themselves, complained about Bertheussen’s behaviour and claimed to newspaper Dagsavisen that the defendant wasn’t taking her own trial seriously.

Bertheussen, who was wearing a face mask in court on Friday, stood up in court while the judge read its lengthy verdict against her Friday afternoon. An NRK reporter who was one of the few allowed into the courtroom because of Corona virus restrictions, reported that she had no visible reaction to her sentence, followed its oral presentation and tapped apparent messages on her mobile phone.

She ended up appealing the verdict on the spot. She called the verdict against her “shocking,” while prosecutors said they’d consider appealing whether her prison term should be longer. Berglund



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