(Bloomberg) -- Share trading by the partners of some of Norway’s key politicians has added to the conflict of interest scandals upsetting the country’s image as a leader in transparency.
Revelations about thousands of stock trades made by the husband of former prime minister Erna Solberg during her eight years in power, and the investments of the partner of Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt have raised questions about how free Norway is from corruption.
The cases in Norway follow hard on the heels of scandals where politicians of the ruling Labor-Center coalition government failed to recuse themselves from decisions on appointments or procurements despite apparent conflicts of interest, with four ministers resigning since autumn 2021 over violations of ethics rules.
“It is quite obvious these revelations erode trust in mainstream political parties,” Guro Slettemark, the secretary general of Transparency International Norway, said in an emailed response to questions. “It is a strong reminder that political corruption can also happen here, and that Norway needs to reconsider whether we have sufficient integrity mechanisms in place.”
Political leaders elsewhere have also faced grief over the actions of their significant others. Last year, Rishi Sunak faced questions over the then-Chancellor of the Exchequer’s wife, Akshata Murty, not paying UK taxes on her overseas earnings.
In Estonia, Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, one of Europe’s leading critics of the Kremlin, has faced pressure by the country’s president, opposition and media to resign over revelations last month that her husband’s company had business activity in Russia.
Ranking fourth on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, Norway has long been viewed as having relatively little public sector corruption. Only Switzerland, Luxembourg, Finland and Sweden rank higher in surveys on trust in government, with about 64% of Norwegians saying they had confidence in the national government, according to OECD data. That compares with about 50% in Canada, 43% in Japan and just 31% in the US.
To be sure, recent events in the Nordic country don’t stand alone. Some of Norway’s biggest companies — including Telenor ASA and Yara International ASA — were embroiled in cross-border graft scandals last decade.
Read More: Norway Junior Minister Quits After Buying Defense Firm’s Stock
In the latest development, ex-premier Solberg announced last Friday her husband, Sindre Finnes, made more than 3,600 stock trades during her eight-year term ending in 2021, for a profit of 1.8 million kroner ($170,000). The scope clearly exceeded what was known to the government office earlier.
Norway’s economic and environmental crime unit, or Okokrim, said it is looking into whether a case should be opened into possible breaches of securities’ trading legislation, E24 news outlet cited its head, Pal Lonseth, as saying on Friday.
Some of the trades meant Solberg should have been disqualified from decisions covering companies including aluminum producer Norsk Hydro ASA, she told reporters in Oslo. The list also included the purchase in September 2020 of derivatives that allow the owner to profit from a falling market in the days before the premier announced that new pandemic restrictions were being considered, VG reported.
The disclosure came just days after her Conservative Party took a historic local election victory over Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store’s Labor, the first since at least 1945 and partly blamed on the recent scandals that so far had only involved government members.
Store, who faces an uphill battle to stay in power in national elections in two years, has already pledged stricter procedures. Parliament speaker Masud Gharahkhani plans to summon parties next week to discuss “clearer” rules on stock trading for politicians, he was cited as saying by local daily Dagbladet on Monday.
--With assistance from Gina Turner.
©2023 Bloomberg L.P.
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