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Monday, May 9, 2022

PST boss comes under fire

The leader of Norway’s police intelligence unit PST, Hans Sverre Sjøvold, has landed in trouble again over his earlier illegal possession of weapons, now over how he let subordinates in the Oslo Police Department get rid of them for him. He was Oslo’s police chief at the time, and newspaper VG has exposed a highly questionable internal culture of loyalty to the boss that resulted in Sjøvold getting favourable treatment.

Questions are being raised about PST chief Hans Sverre Sjøvold’s integrity. He’s shown here at a meeting with foreign correspondents in Oslo shortly after taking over as PST’s leader. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund

VG published a story during the weekend about how Sjøvold had agreed, back in 2008, to take over two guns from a deceased “brother” in the Odd Fellows lodge in Holmestrand. The man’s widow had given Sjøvold a box containing the weapons, reportedly thinking they’d be destroyed.

Instead Sjøvold kept them at home, without re-registereing them under his name, for seven years, until, VG reports, he mentioned to some colleagues over morning coffee in 2015 that he had a problem. He reportedly told them he had some weapons he shouldn’t have, at which point one of the men who happened to work in the police’s own weapons office “looked deep into the eyes” of Sjøvold, according to VG, and said he’d “fix things.”

Another colleague in the weapons office, however, flatly denied to take over the weapons, not least since they’d illegally been in Sjøvold’s possession. It wasn’t until 2019 that VG could report that Sjøvold had violated Norway’s weapons law. He was eventually fined NOK 50,000 but nonetheless managed to move on from his job as Oslo Police Chief to head PST (Politiets sikkerhetstjeneste), Norway’s domestic security and intelligence agency.

Now the illegal weapons case has come up again, this time because it also ended the career of the worker in the weapons office who refused to dispose of Sjøvold’s illegal weapons. VG reported extensively on how he ended up being harassed and even threatened for not indirectly helping Sjøvold dispose of the illegal weapons. The whistle-blower hasn’t been identified and can’t talk about the case, after he finally accepted NOK 1.2 million last autumn in return for quitting his job and leaving the Oslo Police. By that time, he’d already been out on sick leave and disability because of the stress and pressure on him after he’d objected to further violating regulations.

His colleagues, all of whom apparently wanted to please Sjøvold, berated him and demanded that he just “do his job” and stop raising questions about Sjøvold’s illegal weapons. Even a higher ranking officer on the police force allegedly told him to “pull himself together” and stop causing trouble. The whistle-blower didn’t think Sjøvold should get any special treatment. Others apparently did. Several deny claims made by the whistle blower, although Police Inspector Audun Kristiansen has conceded to the police’s internal affairs division that Sjøvold’s weapons were not handled in accordance with normal routines.

An investigation was carried out in 2019, but it only resulted in the fine and did not affect Sjøvold’s new top job. Now it may. Justice Minister Emilie Mehl, in charge of the police in Norway, has said she still has confidence in Sjøvold even though a whistle blower seems to have been badly handled. Current Police Chief Beate Gangås, meanwhile, has asked for a new external examination of how police handled both Sjøvold and the whistle-blower. It will be carried out by the state police directorate.

Public reaction is not in Sjøvold’s favour, with newspaper Dagsavisen editorializing on Tuesday that the PST chief has exhibited poor judgment, violated weapons laws and benefitted from special treatment. “PST Chief Sjøvold can’t live with such serious questions about his integrity,” Dagsavisen wrote, calling the entire case “an open sore for the police, Sjøvold, PST and Mehl.”

Sjøvold, now age 64, insists he had no idea how his subordinates handled the weapons he turned over to him, nor that it had created a major conflict within the weapons office. VG also reported that Sjøvold had turned over not only his late lodge brother’s two weapons but also a 38-caliber revolver that was entirely unregistered. Sjøvold himself can’t explain where it came from.

“It’s very sad to hear that one of my former colleagues has been disabled,” Sjøvold said in a written statement after reading VG‘s story. “I have given thorough and detailed information to investigators in the case, which was closed. Therefore it’s not natural for me to offer further comments to more questions from VG.” Among them was whether he understood that subordinates can feel pressured when they’re asked to do something for the police chief.

The whistle-blower, meanwhile, is now fully disabled and jobless but has also received an unconditional apology from the Oslo Police leadership. “He didn’t do anything wrong, he just did his job,” former deputy police chief Sveinung Sponheim told VG. Other police leaders now confirm that the whistle-blower’s duty to report wrongdoing was up against others’ loyalty to the police chief. Gangås wrote in an email to VG that “It’s unfortunate a former colleague has experienced a challenging work situation and that it has had such consequences. The police district has acknowledged that he wasn’t treated well.”

The colleagues who harassed him had no further comment, but can expect to face more questions from external investigators.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund

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