Monday, June 16, 2014

Nerdrum Sentenced to Jail by Supreme Court: Final Verdict

Image Courtesy of Matthew D. Inness
June 2014, the Norwegian Supreme court sentenced Odd Nerdrum to one year in prison concerning allegations of gross tax fraud. 
I am no longer shocked but am continually outraged, as this is the third and final sentence regarding this case. 
I won't discuss the details included in the article below. But, I will tell you the facts behind the case, which have been repeatedly overlooked and mis-represented in the Norwegian press. 
First of all, it is crucial to understand that according to the current Norwegian laws, Odd Nerdrum will not be allowed to paint in prison, as prisoners shall not engage in "commercial activities" while serving their sentence. Even if the sentence were just, this would amount to nothing less than cruel and unusual punishment, a violation of human rights, and not least of all, a violation of his freedom of expression. Though we in the United States highly value the freedom of expression as a universal and natural born human right and fundamentally necessary to the fabric of a free society, many nations such as Norway do not seem to hold the same belief.

Further, we have ideals about justice, that the defendant is "innocent until proven guilty" and that it is first the responsibility of the prosecution to provide evidence of guilt, not the responsibility of the accused to provide evidence of innocence. These principles were clearly violated from the first to the last as each court presumed Nerdrum to be guilty from the beginning and demanded that he prove his innocence.

These proceedings remind me more of the Spanish Inquisition than they do of a modern judicial system in the civilized world! 

Clearly the Norwegian judicial system doesn't operate according to the principles that we believe are universal. So, though I can not claim that this sentence violates any Norwegian laws, I will say that this sentence violates international laws on human rights and self evident principles of justice.

Over the course of several years of writing about this case, I've learned the details of how it came about:

It began when approximately 40 large scale pieces that Nerdrum painted with an experimental medium began to drip and melt. Understandably, the collectors who had purchased these paintings were upset. Nerdrum spent the next decade re-painting many of these pieces and offered to ship them at his expense to the collectors. The Norwegian IRS claimed that he painted these pieces, not to replace the damaged paintings, but to sell them and evade paying taxes.

Read more for the full background to the case: Odd Nerdrum: Art Political Prisoner

Here is the full article in the Norwegian Press below. 


 The High Court has taken the matter to the earth. They have reduced the amount Nerdrum was previously convicted of dramatic, says defender John Christian Elden NRK.
- On the one year and eight months as they now have imposed, then eight months suspended, so they have said that he shall serve one year in prison, continues Elden.
In the Court of Appeal on 23 May let the prosecutor and the acting Attorney Asbjørg Lykkjen claim for two years and ten months imprisonment for artist Odd Nerdrum (70). The case was in May reprocessed in the High Court. 

Odd Nerdrum and John Christian Elden - Odd Nerdrum arrived appeal the Court of Appeal with his attorney John Christian Elden in mid-May. - Photo: Junge, Heiko / NTB Scanpix
Odd Nerdrum arrived appeal the Court of Appeal with his attorney John Christian Elden in mid-May.
Appealed to Supreme Court

In June 2012, Nerdrum sentenced in the High Court to have sold pictures of almost 14 million without bringing up income on your tax return.The artist was sentenced to two years and ten months.

Nerdrum appealed to the Supreme Court, which overturned the verdict because they believed the judgment of the Court of Appeal was inadequate.Thus, the whole matter is discussed again by the Court of Appeal in May 2013. 

Demanded acquittal

Defender John Christian Elden asked the High Court to acquit, and that if Nedrum was found guilty, he should be imposed mildest possible punishment.

During his closing argument the Court of Appeal, he criticized the investigation in the case.
- There has not been one question from the police to me during the years I have been defending. When the police can not stand afterwards and say that defense should come with more. It is a fundamental failure of an investigation, said Elden in the Court of Appeal on 23 May.
Odd Nerdrum has even said that tax evasion is due to his own mess, and no ill will.
- I had little knowledge of these checks. Had them in your pocket. Forgot them. Had to get new ones. So hopeless I explained Nerdrum in court.

Parallel issues

Odd Nerdrum has two parallel cases going to the courts. The artist has brought a case against the Norwegian tax because he believes himself falsely imitated for years 1998-2002 and would have repealed the decision of the Tax Office.

He lost the case in both the District Court and High Court and appealed the case to the Supreme Court in May.