Iran trip costs Norway fisheries minister his job

He breached security protocol by not informing the government of his travels

Norwegian prime minister Erna Solberg, right, and Norway's Minister of Fisheries, Per Sandberg attend a press conference in Oslo, Norway Monday Aug. 13, 2018. Sandberg stepped down after harsh criticism for not informing the government of his private trips abroad to Iran and China. He gave no reasons why he failed to tell his bosses about the trips in advance — a summer holiday in July to Iran with his Iranian-born girlfriend and a trip to China in May. (Heiko Junge/NTB Scanpix via AP)
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Norway's fisheries minister has resigned after admitting to breaching government protocol by visiting Iran for a holiday last month without informing colleagues of his whereabouts.

Per Sandberg, a right-wing figure in the Scandinavian country, was condemned by the country's Prime Minister Erna Solberg for failing to adhere to the cabinet's rules about foreign travel.

The minister took a government-issued mobile device with him to the Islamic Republic, a state known for intense surveillance of foreign figures.

The 58-year-old is the deputy head of the anti-immigration Progress Party, which advocates for the swift deportation of migrants who fail in their application to enter Norway.

He has subsequently faced censure from within his own party for the trip with his Iranian-born girlfriend, 28-year-old Bahareh Letnes, who secured Norwegian residency over a decade ago. She had her asylum request rejected three times in Norway and was expelled, but finally obtained a residency permit on the grounds that she risked being subjected to a forced marriage in Iran.

Ms Solberg had ordered Mr Sandberg to hand his phone to Norwegian for checks, fearing that Iran had breached his phone and communications.

The Norwegian leader and her ruling minority party have faced criticism for their handling of national security, or perceived lack of it.


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Norway's intelligence agency regularly lists Iran as one of the countries most likely to carry out espionage, alongside China and Russia.

"Per himself asked to step down, and I think it was the right decision," Conservative Prime Minister Erna Solberg told reporters.

"He didn't show the necessary common sense when it comes to handling security issues," she said.

Mr Sandberg issued an apology in a bid to quell the criticism, but with new details emerging daily he ultimately decided to resign.

Among other things, it emerged he had also broken security protocol in May when he took his work phone to China.

"It's sad," he told reporters on Monday. "I had hoped to finish up a few projects," he added, refusing to comment on the personal aspects of the affair.

Norwegian intelligence services have opened a probe into Letnes, who denies any ties to the Iranian regime.

Sandberg will be replaced by Harald Tom Nesvik, a member of his own party, and has also stepped down as deputy head of the party.