The Norwegian branch of the freedom of speech organization PEN marked the announcement day 5. June by supporting the alert website WikiLeaks' founder Julian Assange, currently in prison in the UK awaiting the extradition hearing scheduled for February next year. On the same day, notifications and lawyer Kari Breirem presented their book Promote justice and prevent injustice – about corruption, legal security and notification. Kari Breirem is undoubtedly Norway's most significant warning. She has not been afraid to stand up, neither with her own warning nor in defense of others. Ny Tid meets Breirem at Bondeheimen.
«Alerts are honored in the party speech but hidden in the alley behind the banquet hall.» Is this a characteristic you share?
"I know what it means to notify," says Breirem. "It has brought me into conflict with many powerful people in the country: I revealed the law firm BA-HR's and billionaire Kjell Inge Røkka's fraud with a false invoice [see box case p. 4 in the paper newspaper]. BA-HR accused me of being involved in former health minister Tore Tønne's suicide. It doesn't get tougher than that. The fact that business leaders and leading politicians stood in line to condemn is also included. ”
Is it time for an alert rebellion to bring the press and society back
Stavanger Aftenblad editor Sven Egil Omdal called you «girlfriend against the dirty stream». Ibsen would have called you «and an enemy of the people»? Do you recognise your self?
"That's how it is to be an alert. You have to be prepared for the worst, because power has many weapons and many friends. Money people, politicians, prime ministers! But fortunately there have always been some who have seen the truth and supported me, who have not been allowed to 'cool' by threats. It helps to think about it. But it hurts when people you were expecting better from don't line up.
Prime Minister Erna Solberg spoke freshly at the World Economic Forum last winter that she wanted one MeToo against economic crime. With a solid background in the Notification Committee's NOU 2018: 6, Solberg had the opportunity to follow this up. But the proposal the government put forward was one of the cowardiest I have seen, one of the members of the committee told me. No system change. Only codification of applicable law and a proposal that managers were required to follow up on a notice. It was far from the pompous party speeches. "
Yes, what about the notification of a leader's abuse or crime?
“Often, there are cultures that leaders are exponents of. But not all notifications are legitimate. It may be convenient for some to get out of frustration. And we are wise to be careful. It is always important to investigate the notice and file the case against the notifier with a reason. But it must never make whistleblowers feel insecure for retaliation. Then we throw the baby out with the bath water.
Many leadership cultures are letting go of whistleblowers. But because we do not have good grip on helping the legitimate, there is inflation in who can call it. Or it prevents legitimate standing. Editor Sven Egil Omdal felt that too many whistleblowers fail to show up because it costs too much. Investigations by FaFo and the trade union The leaders show that 50 percent of both managers and employees fail to notify of fear of reprisals"Says Breirem.
Notification has its price. You have to dry. In order to become an alert you have to be willing å go into a confrontation. Are you a difficult person, quarrelsome, «contrarian», Breirem?
"Maybe, but first and foremost I have the will to truth. I can't live with my own mirror image if I have faced corruption and fraud without doing anything. "
Does that mean you would do it again? It's a question whistleblowers would like to get?
'Yes, I would, but I might have done things differently. I have learned. But as director of the prestigious law firm BA-HR, I had to say, could not make me cheat just because 'this is how we do it here'. It's about morality and what's right, and not just that an audit could reveal a false invoice, and I could rightly be punished if I approved it. "
Investigations by FaFo and the trade union
Leaders show that 50 percent of both managers and employees fail to notify of fear of retaliation.
A June day in 2015. Breirem was one of several whistleblowers who stood outside the Storting. The self-notifying icon Daniel Ellsberg was the keynote speaker. He was called "the most dangerous man in the United States" by President Nixon and Secretary of State Kissinger. The whistleblowers asked Storting President Olemic Thommessen to invite the whistleblower Edward Snowden to Norway. It could have been a good follow-up to Thommessen's many party speeches about 1814 and freedom of speech. "To put your money where your mouth is," said Aftenposten's editor Harald Stanghelle . Furious, Thommessen left the place.
It had cost Ellsberg to announce American war crimes 50 years ago, so it would cost Assange to bring the truth about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in our day. Ellsberg has never been able to get a job in the United States since. The marriage was lost. Assange is threatened with extradition to the United States and punished as a spy. Snowden is in volatility in Moscow.
After years of carpet bombing Vietnam and Kampuchea, Kissinger received the Nobel Prize.
The truth is not high in price, neither in Daniel Ellsberg's USA, Assange's UK or Kari Breirem's Norway? Were BA-HR convicted?
"Yes, BA-HR was sentenced to pay a small fine after the prosecutor completely misunderstood the case – even though it was already proven. My small role was that as a director of the law firm, I refused to pay a false invoice. An internal warning that something was wrong. BA-HR could have stopped the process, but chose to suspend me and then resign. However, the fine they received was less than three percent of the scam. At first, they refused to pay it. They have grown stronger and more powerful than ever. This is how it is in Norway. ”
You are also arguing with former Labor Party leader Jens Stoltenberg?
"Jens Stoltenberg does not tell the truth about the Tønne case in his autobiography of 2016. He blames the rules for being unclear and believes that the case's core was a late pay. Unjustified severance pay was far from my imagination. The truth was simple: an invoice was forged to hide incompatibility and money laundering. It should not be beautified or obscured. Since I solved the Tønne case, of course I have the right to describe the facts! "
I En folkefiende Ibsen lets both Stockmann and his daughter lose their jobs. Do you mention in your book that your daughter was also terminated at BA-HR?
“The treatment of my daughter I have difficulty forgiving. She was asked to send a document on behalf of the managing partner of the company, and was later accused of doing what she was asked to – it led to termination. Disgraceful! She got a life experience she shouldn't have. ”
But there were voices that supported you? NRK's Christian Borch and Sven Egil Omdal in Stavanger Aftenblad. Do they warn against the fact that power people control the press in alert cases?
'Yes, there were several who supported me. Borch believed that the press should proceed with the case. Omdal wrote that the conspiracy between the country's most powerful industrialists and top politicians was effectively covered. He claimed that warnings such as 'Remember what happened to Tore Tønne' have a calculated, cooling effect on journalists and lead to illegalities not being detected. Then the press will not fulfill its social task. "
You were not further impressed by the reaction of the press after Tønne's death?
"No. NHO boss Ulltveit-Moe claimed that the press killed Tønne. The Press Federation even created its own committee to look at the Tønne case. The fear of the power elite obviously got the upper hand in this committee. "The case was oversized in relation to the actual realities that were revealed," they said, among other things about Dagbladet's coverage. An obvious wrong conclusion. A clear casualty, since the facts of the case that were well known, were very serious, while lots of facts will never be known since the investigation was stopped when Tønne took his life. »
Do you write far beyond your own life and go back in history and bring the case against Milorg leader Oliver Langeland?
"Yes, Langeland went right into the very war after the war. He wrote two books that were confiscated and shredded. "
You could not easily call the war hero Langeland a traitor. He had headed Division 13 of Milorg in Oslo and had to flee. But after the war he protested that war professors in government and business were not punished, while people with passive NS membership were punished.
Langeland was effectively brought to silence by his books being confiscated and destroyed.
It's time to look at these less glamorous aspects of our history, says Breirem. She writes about the rule of law and the judicial practice that she knows well and badly into our time. She has doubts about the Norwegian judiciary's excellence.
Tore Tønne was the Norwegian business manager
and Minister of Health in Jens Stoltenberg's government 2000 – 2001. The following year, Økokrim withdrew indictment against Tønne for unlawfully receiving 1,5 million for consulting work for billionaire Kjell Inge Røkke on a counterfeit invoice from
law firm BA-HR. The barrel took its life
in December 2002, and the case against him was closed. BA-HR Director Kari Breirem notified the false invoice and was forced to quit the company. BA-HR was fined 50 000.
A living democracy, a living press, and the rule of law are interconnected and depend on the taking of whistleblowers seriously. Both history and our present day have stones that must be turned. Then we need notifiers. Norwegian PEN and Kari Breirem are not alone in thinking this. But it often seems far between supporting voices. And the powers and interests that will hinder it are powerful. Too many whistleblowers are threatened with silence. Ibsen wrote about it in En folkefiende while Norway was still under Sweden. And 130 years later, we still struggle with the same problem.
A gathering of Akershus journalists in the spring of 2019 discussed the ongoing case of Ann-Elisabeth Hagen's disappearance. It emerged that the police had for a long time threatened the press with prosecution if it wrote about the case. The police had no legal basis to do so. Was it the "Remember what happened to Tore Tønne" syndrome that struck and made the newspapers silent month after month? From the United States, the New York Times reports that they will because of all the criticism end with caricature drawings. Caricatures are older than the press itself and the fool's accurate weapon from below. Caricatures are hated by dictators and demagogues. The New York Times' self-censorship is frightening. The ultimate victory for the powerful. Is it time for a whistleblower uprising to get the press and society back on track?
Kari Breirem has a granddaughter of nine years. Of course, his name is Justin. She wants him to one day be able to read the truth about the case Grandmother triggered, should a journalist or historian at some point decide to take the case to its fullest extent.
- also read our articles and comments about Julian Assange
- Also read: Alerts throughout history