Sindre Finnes, husband of the former Norwegian prime minister Erna Solberg, insists he did nothing illegal during his years of extensive stock trading while his wife led the government. Finnes denies suggestions of insider trading and his lawyer says he doesn’t fear a pending criminal investigation.
“He wants to contribute information and lay all his cards on the table,” Finnes’ defense attorney Thomas Skjelbred told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Wednesday. “I can’t see that he’s done anything irregular or illegal.”
Finnes issued a statement through his lawyer late Tuesday night in which he finally addressed numerous suggestions of insider trading. Norwegian media have reported, for example, that he dumped shares just before Solberg shut down the country during the Corona crisis. As leader of Norway’s Conservative Party, she headed the country’s non-socialist government coalition from 2013-2021.
Solberg tearfully confirmed at a press conference late last week that she only now realizes how her spouse’s investments landed her in several conflicts of interest during her two terms as prime minister. She claimed she’d been unaware of all his stock market activity, but could now report that it amounted to nearly 4,000 transactions during her eight years in office, and generated gains totalling NOK 1.8 million.
Solberg has been keen to win back government power from Norway’s current Labour-Center government coalition at the next national election in 2025. Her party won local elections all over the country just last Monday, but now her own long political career is in jeopardy: Her husband’s stock trading and her failure to monitor and halt it have led to calls for her to resign as leader of the Conservatives and withdraw as the party’s candidate for prime minister, because of all the conflicts it has created.
Transaction records show how Finnes bought shares in oil companies while his wife was negotiating tax breaks for the oil industry, and actively traded shares in Norwegian companies that were financially affected by goverment policy. In some cases, the state held a controlling stake in the companies, while others such as salmon producers benefited from the Solberg government’s decision, for example, to not impose new taxes on their operations.
Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported this week that Finnes also carried out 180 transactions of stock in hydrogen company Nel, just as Solberg’s government was promising to promote and invest billions in the hydrogen sector: “We won’t only be an oil- and hydroelectric nation, but also a hydrogen nation,” Solberg claimed in an interview with DN in September 2020, adding that her government would “stimulate full-scale production and use of hydrogen.”
DN reported that Finnes, meanwhile, earned nearly NOK 380,000 on the purchase and sale of Nel shares from 2018 to 2021. When Solberg presented a new government platform on January 17, 2019 that promised a “green restructuring” and a “hydrogen strategy,” her husband held 73,000 shares in Nel.
Finnes claims he had no knowledge of sensitive information tied to the controversial tax breaks that Solberg’s government gave oil companies during the Corona crisis, or to other government policy. “I was never made aware of information about the government’s decisions that could be described as inside information,” he declared in the statement compiled with the help of his lawyer who works for one of Norway’s largest law firms specializing in defense cases, Elden Advokatfirma. Nor, Finnes stated, has he “at any point in time” had access to market-sensitive information through his employer, national employers’ organizations Norsk Industri/NHO. Norsk Industri’s board has confirmed that.
Finnes also stated that during the Corona crisis, he spent large portions of his time alone in his home office and ended up devoting “a lot” of it to stock market trading. He has admitted to and apologized for withholding the extent of his stock market activity from both Solberg and administrators at the Office of the Prime Minister, who had warned both and Solberg and Finnes that it could create conflicts of interest.
Nils August Andresen, editor of the political magazine Minerva, was among those remaining highly critical of Finnes’ market activity and the statement released by Finnes and his attorney Tuesday night. “His statement doesn’t change how he lied to his wife, Norway’s prime minister, and to the Norwegian public for many years,” Andresen claimed on NRK Tuesday night. He thinks Finnes shouldn’t have been allowed anywhere near areas where policy is discussed and decisions are made, including the prime minister’s official residence if it was used as a venue.
Other finance, market and legal professional have expressed surprise over Finnes’ extensive trading, and stated as have many others, that it should have been better controlled or forbidden.
“We live off the confidence we hold, we are utterly dependent on others having confidence in us,” Christian Jomaas, chief of Pareto Securities in Oslo, told DN. The media storm around Finnes and Solberg comes just as Pareto is hosting an annual conference on investing in energy, that’s attracted 160 companies and as many as 2,000 participants.
Jomaas said that neither he nor any member of his family is allowed to invest in shares in individual companies in the Nordic region, “so that no one can question our integrity. We have absolute limits on our own investments and they function well.” Call are rising in Norway to also put limits on the investments of political leaders and their families.