Gísli Freyr confessed only after new evidence made "defense pointless", says Prosecutor
Today, Wednesday, saw Gísli Freyr Valdórsson, the Interior Minister’s now former assistant, sentenced to eight months in prison, by the Reykjavík district court, for leaking a Ministry document, containing sensitive personal information and unsubstantiated slander about one Tony Omos, at the time seeking asylum in Iceland. The verdict is probational, the probation lasting for two years.
As reported, after insisting on his innocence from the beginning, on Tuesday Gísli Freyr publicly confessed having doctored and leaked the document. Wednesday morning revealed that the confession came after Gísli was informed that the prosecution had found the leaked document, and traces of its use, on his computer this weekend. In the light of that, the Court ruled that the confession would not be considered a reason for leniency.
Interviewed by RÚV’s Kastljós on Tuesday night, Gísli apologized to those involved, Tony Omos, other individuals mentioned in the document, the Minister, ministerial staff and others. He explained his decision to confess, by saying that the burden of his “web of lies” had become insufferable. As to why he had not done so earlier, seemingly remorseful, he said that once he had started lying, he could not find his way out of that disposition until now, and that he’d wish he could better explain.
Wednesday morning, however, Fréttablaðið and Vísir claimed that the prosecution would submit new evidence in the case, conclusively proving Gísli’s culpability. That turned out to be the case. Interrogation of witnesses would have started Wednesday, had Gísli not confessed. At the court’s session, Vice State Prosecutor Helgi Magnús Gunnarsson submitted new evidence, obtained from Gísli Freyr’s computer. New methods reportedly revealed the leaked document last weekend, about which the Prosecutor says that he then notified the defendant.
The prosecution demanded that Gísli Freyr’s confession would not be admitted as reason for a lenient sentence, since it had only come after the defendant was informed about the new evidence. Gísli Freyr’s defense counsel argued back that the defendant had admitted the offence to the lawyer a week earlier, and they were already planning to discuss his next steps, when the new evidence was revealed. The court sided with the prosecution on this.
Interviewed by Kjarninn after the court was adjourned, the Prosecutor >confirmed this development: “It is obvious that once this document was revealed, which we expected to be there but for some technical reasons was not found before, defense had become sort of pointless. The confession takes place right after I inform the defendant about the document and send him a copy.”
The prosecution called for the highest sentence for the offence, three years in prison. One reason cited was that Gísli Freyr motive had been advancing his own interest or that of others, financially or not. Gísli Freyr leaked the document the day before protests had been announced at the Ministry, against the asylum seeker’s eviction from Iceland.
On Tuesday’s Kastljós, Gísli Freyr admitted that he had wanted to influence public discussion about the case, by leaking the memo. His words were that he had wanted to reveal “another side” of the case, one which he felt was neglected by the media, since officials were not allowed to defend their decisions publicly. The court did not accept that Gísli’s motive had been advancing any personal interests.
Interfering with the Prosecution
The Vice State Prosecutor did not state his views on Interior Minister Hanna Birna’s interferences and public proclamations about the investigation directly, but answered a question on that topic on a general note:
“People who blog somewhere in their personal capacity can say whatever they want, and others then decide if they find them trustworthy or not. But it is very sad if people in a position – this has happened in other cases, party congresses voting for a case to be dismissed – what is that? Interfering with the prosecution is as serious as interfering with the courts.” He also stated that it should now be clear beyond doubt that the prosecution was not involved in a “an ugly political game”, a phrase repeatedly used by the Minister in relation to it.
The Minister as victim
The Minister was among those who had been called to the witness stand. In RÚV’s Kastljós on Tuesday night, Gísli Freyr emphasized that she had no involvement in or knowledge of his actions until now, that he had, ridden by a guilty conscience, decided to confess.
Media have since noted several points at which the truthfulness of this claim seems less than obvious: the Minister’s original angry denial of there being any document even resembling the leaked document in the Ministry; her interference when Police decided to search Gísli Freyr’s computer, at which point she told the now former Chief of Police Stefán Eiríksson that she thought they were “going too far”; as well as her claims that Gísli asked her to get the Police to fasten his interrogation at one point. On Tuesday night’s Kastljós, Gísli thoroughly denied having made such a request. Since the interference did take place, that would seem to suggest that the Minister interfered on her own initiative. So far, Gísli has refused to answer further questions on that.
Birgitta Jónsdóttir, member of Alþingi on behalf of the Pirate Party, demands that the Minister resign. Members from other parties in opposition remain critical of the Minister’s conduct but, largely, equivocal about such consequences. The Independence Party’s members of Alþingi, however, responded to Wednesday’s verdict by voting for a declaration of full support towards Hanna Birna as Minister of the Interior. Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson said that Hanna Birna, having had neither involvement in nor knowledge of the leak, is “in many ways a victim in this case, as well”.
So far, the Prosecutor has stayed equivocal as to whether the office will appeal the verdict or not. The Vice State Prosecutor commented that what matters most is that the case had now reached a conclusion.
Possible misconduct on behalf of the Interior Minister, in communication with former Chief of Police, Stefán Eiríksson, during and about the Police investigation of the leak, is still under investigation.
Today’s verdict concludes part of the drama that has unfolded for over a year, since the sensitive document was quoted by Fréttablaðið and Morgunblaðið. Tony Omos, the Nigerian man who sought asylum in Iceland and became the victim of the Ministry’s conduct, was evicted in December 2013, shortly after the Ministry’s leak. The eviction took place, as habitual, in the middle of the night, without notice, as Police manhandled him aboard an airplane to Switzerland. Neither Omos nor his lawyer were notified before the eviction.
Omos currently stays in Italy. A complaint against the Directorate of Immigration’s refusal of his application for asylum came before Reykjavík’s district court last week.