Deafening silence around the Frode Berg case

Frode BergThe spy indicted Norwegian Frode Berg. Photo: Private / NTB scanpix

Deafening silence around the Frode Berg case

Despite some hard criticism, the Norwegian authorities have commented as little as possible about the spy case against Frode Berg in Russia. The trial starts on Tuesday.

“I expect that they have good reasons to act as they do. They have been experienced as very cautious in some phases, also by us. But I have no reason to make any judgment on it,” Berg’s Norwegian lawyer, Brynulf Risnes, tells NTB.

“It is highly likely that something is happening in the back room, and I have a great understanding that they do not want the public’s searchlight on it. They may have trade-offs based on things I don’t know about,” he continues.

The lawsuit against the Norwegian starts on Tuesday. Berg has been imprisoned in Moscow since December 5th, 2017. The question is whether an expected conviction can instil movement in the case, ultimately bringing Berg back home to Norway.

The Norwegian intelligence service is, at the same time, criticised for allegedly having sent a former Norwegian border inspector on a mission he was neither suited to nor realised the scope of.

«Risky, careless, cynical»

TV 2 journalist, Øystein Bogen, writes in his book «An unusual spy» that the plan involving dispatching «a Norwegian retiree to a hostile territory without diplomatic immunity» appears as a ghost from the Cold War.

“It was risky, almost careless in its execution and cynical bordering on the desperate,” Bogen writes.

The journalist emphasizes that the whole picture in the Berg case may be more nuanced than that. But the silence of the Norwegian authorities has led to the best available information to date coming from Berg himself, his lawyers and the Russian Secret Police (FSB), he argues, adding:

“This information makes it almost inevitable to draw the conclusion that in this case, the I-service, and with that Norway, has hit a giant mine.”

A shame

In her book «A good Norwegian» Berg’s friend and journalist, Trine Hamran, refers to an interview with Berg’s Russian defence lawyer, Ilja Novikov. Novikov does not believe that his client has gone through any kind of training beforehand.

“The reason for this is that Frode seemed so confused in the early days after the arrest. Besides, he has admitted quite a few details in the first interrogations. A trained spy would never have done that,” Novikov believes according to the book.

He concludes that Berg could not be a «real spy».

“He was sent unprepared to Russia. Uninformed and without instruction, and that’s a shame,” Novikov continues.

Crushing verdict

Former editor-in-chief of Aftenposten, Harald Stanghelle, wrote in a comment last November that “if we are to believe the open sources, the arrest of Frode Berg is simply a result of a scandal that the  Intelligence Service of the Norwegian Defence has signed”.

“The Frode Berg case is an amateurish Norwegian intelligence operation where everything went wrong,” Dagbladet’s former editor-in-chief John Arne Markussen wrote in April of last year.

The Intelligence Service does not wish to comment on the criticism.

“This is a consular case. We refer to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” a spokesperson for the Intelligence Service, Ann-Kristin Bjergene, tells NTB.

«Consular case» 

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has also been laying very low in the case. It too describes the situation around Berg as a «Consular case». This article has also been submitted to the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (UD).

“The Foreign Service provides consular assistance to Frode Berg, among other means, through visits to prison and practical assistance,” Communications Manager of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Kristin Enstad, explains.

“The embassy in Moscow will be present as an observer during court hearings, if it is granted permission by the Russian authorities,” Enstad tells NTB.

Asked about what the Ministry will do to bring Berg back home to Norway when a verdict has been reached in the case, Enstad responds:

“We do not want to speculate in the outcome of a trial.”

Berg’s supporters hope that Prime Minister Erna Solberg (Conservatives) will raise the issue when she presumably meets Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, in a week or so.

“I’m not going to talk about which issues we are discussing with Russia before we have the meeting. That is a general principle we’re going to follow,” Solberg declares to NTB.

© NTB Scanpix / #Norway Today
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