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Norwegian company sues state over ‘risky’ spy recruitment in Russia

A concrete producer took the Norwegian state to court on Monday claiming intelligence agencies' clumsy approach to recruiting informants had caused the company financial loss.

Norwegian company sues state over 'risky' spy recruitment in Russia
A view of the port in Russian city Murmansk. Photo: AFP

At Oslo district court, concrete manufacturer Olen Betong accused the Norwegian internal (PST) and external (E-tjeneste) intelligence services of contacting two employees working in the Murmansk region in order to turn them into informants.

The company, which has business in Russia's north-west, said the intelligence services had made repeated indiscrete contact over the last decade and that this was noticed by Russian government agencies.

Olen Betong claimed this led to the loss of an important contract in Russia and legal trouble for company founder Atle Berge and employee Kurt Sto.

The pair were arrested and interrogated in Murmansk before being declared persona non grata in Russia for ten years.

The company's lawyer Per Ristvedt said the case was unique in Norwegian judicial history.

“Norway has and should have an intelligence service. But it cannot be allowed to operate in a way that puts private individuals and companies at too much risk,” Ristvedt told the court, broadcaster TV2 said.

“There has to be a limit,” he added.

Olen Betong is seeking 140 million Norwegian kroner (13.7 million euros) in damages from the state.

Although the state admits that contacts were made by the intelligence services, it maintains they did not act carelessly and that discussions about security were part of normal operations.

“Norwegian intelligence has only done its job,” attorney general Fredrik Sejersted reportedly said in opening remarks in court.

The trial is set to take five days and feature ex-foreign minister and current Labour opposition leader Jonas Gahr Støre.

Another witness is Frode Berg, who was imprisoned in Russia but released last year in a spy swap.

Berg was jailed for 14 years after admitting to acting as a courier for Norwegian intelligence.

READ ALSO: Norwegian freed in Moscow spy swap 'deceived' by secret services

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Today in Norway: A roundup of the latest news on Monday 

Find out what’s going on in Norway on Monday with The Local’s short roundup of important news. 

Today in Norway: A roundup of the latest news on Monday 
Oslo Operahus. Photo by Arvid Malde on Unsplash

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On Monday, the government will issue guidelines on how exactly its Covid-19 certificate will be used domestically.

At 3pm, the government will hold a press conference where they will reveal more about how the Covid-19 certificates will work.

The certificate launched on Friday, but so far, the government have been sparing with details on how it will be used. 

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They have, however, revealed the certificate would be used for access to large events as well as tours and cruises within Norway. 

We will have all the details on how the certificate will be used covered in an article later today. 

Ministry of Defence: No signs of espionage 

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At the end of May, Danmarks Radio reported that the US used Danish data cables to spy on politicians across Europe. 

“These are serious allegations that the government takes very seriously. Based on what we know, it does not look like there has been activity (espionage) directed at Norwegian politicians,” Jensen said in a statement. 

READ MORE: Norway summons US embassy top official over spying claims 

“Systematic espionage is completely unacceptable. We are clear to the Danish and American authorities about this. We are also in active dialogue with Danish and American authorities and services about the information regarding this matter,” he added. 

One in ten Norwegians plan summer holiday abroad 

Only ten percent of respondents to a new survey have said they plan on going on holiday abroad this summer. 

According to the survey by employer organisation, Virke, the majority, 60 percent, said that their travel plans have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. 

Fewer children are being adopted from abroad in Norway 

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According to new figures from Statistics Norway, the number of foreign children being adopted in Norway is also less than 10 percent of what it was in 1998 when 795 foreign adoptions were registered. 

A total of 243 adoptions were recorded in Norway last year, almost 100 less than the year before. 

One of the reasons fewer foreign children are being adopted is that countries that have previously released children for adoption abroad can now take care of these children themselves, according to Statistics Norway.

96 new coronavirus cases

On Sunday, 96 new cases of Covid-19 were registered in Norway, 89 fewer than the seven-day average of 185. 

Fewer cases tend to be registered on weekends and public holidays than on weekdays. 

The R-number or reproduction rate in Norway is currently 0.9. This means that every ten people that are infected will, on average, only infect another nine people, indicating that the infection level is declining.

Total number of Covid-19 cases in Norway. Source: NIPH
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