Norwegian Justice Minister Tor Mikkel Wara has been granted a temporary leave as his partner, Laila Anita Bertheussen, was arrested on suspicion of setting fire to his car, NRK reported.
54-year-old Laila Anita Bertheussen was detained by Norway's PST security agency in the wake of several vandalism-related incidents at the minister's home.
Previously, politicians from the left and the right united in condemning the series of threats Wara allegedly received, while expressing sympathy for Wara and his family. Most recently, his car was set ablaze outside his family home in Oslo last week. Therefore, the PST's announcement came like a bolt from the blue.
"We suspect that [Bertheussen] set the fire herself", PST chief Benedicte Bjørnland said, setting off a political bomb. According to her, Wara's partner is suspected of faking a crime and deliberately misleading the authorities. This is punishable with fines and up to a year's imprisonment.
Bertheussen's attorney John Christian Elden, one of Norway's leading professionals in the field, stressed that his client denies the charges and believes that the police are "on the wrong track".
While the charges are only related to the Saturday night blaze, Bjørnland stressed that the suspected arson is seen in connection with earlier threats allegedly received by Wara and his partner. These include graffiti which accused Wara of being racist, swastika tags, at least two bomb threats and an earlier case of attempted arson. Bjørnland stressed that police continue to investigate the earlier incidents, adding that their investigation is wide open.
While this announcement sent shockwaves through Norway's political landscape, Prime Minister Erna Solberg and Finance Minister Siv Jensen held a press conference, describing it as a "shock to the entire government".
Solberg, who less than a week ago voiced her support for Wara, said this was "tragedy" both for Wara and his family. She said she had to accept his request for an official leave, but declined to speculate on whether it was possible for Wara to return to his post.
Law professor Eivind Smith, however, said there was nothing in the Constitution that prevented Wara from returning as minister of justice, NRK reported.
Wara represented the right-wing Progress Party, which is currently a junior government party and an important ally to the Conservatives. Carl Hagen, the Progress Party's figurehead and decades-long leader, said he was "shocked and flabbergasted" and expressed hope that PST had made a mistake.