Partner of Norwegian Ex-Minister Is Sentenced for Staging Attacks

OSLO — A Norwegian court on Friday sentenced the partner of a former minister to 20 months in prison after she was found guilty of endangering the country’s democracy by making up threats and vandalizing her own house and car in an attempt to show that the couple’s privacy had been invaded by a theater production.

The defendant, Laila Anita Bertheussen, is the partner of the former justice minister Tor Mikkel Wara, of the right-wing Progress Party. She was found guilty of sending anonymous threats to Mr. Wara and to another minister, of daubing their own house and car with the word “racist” and a swastika, and later of setting the car on fire — all to prove her false assertion that the couple was under attack.

Eirin Eikefjord, a political editor who has covered the case for the daily Bergens Tidende, said, “It is an extraordinary case, some would say crazy, that has shaped conversations about what those who have power in Norway make of it.”

Ms. Bertheussen’s campaign began after a play in November 2018 at an Oslo theater. The play displayed footage of the house where she lived with Mr. Wara, along with images of the homes of other politicians whom the production accused of nurturing racist attitudes in Norway. The play, called “Ways of Seeing,” aimed to map “the networks that are interested in making Norway a more racist society,” according to a description on the theater’s website.

Although “Ways of Seeing” did not display the addresses of the houses, the production prompted a debate about freedom of expression and the lengths artists can go to with political commentary.

Ms. Bertheussen was evidently furious. “They call it art, I call it a gross invasion of my privacy,” She wrote in an opinion piece in the newspaper VG in December 2018.

Then things took a darker turn. Ms. Bertheussen filed a complaint against the theater company after a swastika and the word “racist” were painted on her home, which was later placed under police surveillance. Mr. Wara and another minister received further threats, prompting the prime minister, Erna Solberg, to criticize the theater company as endangering the officials.

The threats continued. In January 2019, a fire was started in a trash can outside the home of Ms. Bertheussen and Mr. Wara; in March of that year, their car was set alight.

Then came a twist: Ms. Bertheussen was arrested and accused of staging the arson herself. Mr. Wara promptly resigned from the Justice Ministry.

At Ms. Bertheussen’s trial, which started in September, the court heard how a trail of evidence had led investigators to suspect that Ms. Bertheussen was behind the attacks.

Handwriting experts testified that some of the threatening letters and the graffiti on the house matched Ms. Bertheussen’s writing, and a red pen that was apparently used to draw the swastika was found inside.

Also found in the house was a booklet of postage stamps with several missing. The missing stamps matched those used to mail letters to Mr. Wara and another minister, prosecutors said.

The court also heard how a mobile-phone application that tracked Ms. Bertheussen’s movements had also revealed that she had been active on the night when investigators believe that the graffiti was painted on the couple’s house.

Marit Formo, a prosecutor, said, “The goal was to make believe that someone from the play or who sympathizes with it was behind these acts.”

The trial was broadcast live on Norwegian television, captivating attention not only because of the unusual details but also because of Ms. Bertheussen’s conduct. She sometimes carried handmade bags with messages printed on them, including one displaying a medical code that hinted at a personality disorder.

During the trial, Ms. Bertheussen pleaded not guilty to charges of committing a hoax, making threats, and engaging in criminal activity that hinders the country’s activity, usually referred to in Norway as an attack on democracy, insisting, “Everything is coincidence.” She was found guilty of all but one charge, and said she would appeal the decision.

Prosecutors had requested a sentence of two years in prison.

Henrik Pryser Libell reported from Oslo, and Elian Peltier from London.

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