Geopolitics

Meet The 'Ice Angel' Prosecutor Facing Down Norway's Anders Breivik

Inga Engh landed the case of a lifetime when she was chosen to prosecute confessed mass murderer Anders Breivik. Cool and collected in the courtroom, this mother of two boys has admitted that there is inevitably a personal relationship to this case.

Norwegian prosecutor Inga Bejer Engh (YouTube)
Norwegian prosecutor Inga Bejer Engh (YouTube)
Per Hinrichs

OSLO She didn't have to reply. She, after all, is the one asking the questions in the courtroom. It is the defendant who must answer the questions, and otherwise keep quiet. But when Anders Behring Breivik asked her if she was trying to make him look ridiculous, Inga Bejer Engh replied. "I'm not trying to make fun of you, or irritate you," she said. "I simply want things to be clear."

And with that same aim in mind, Engh, 41, asks Breivik questions like: "When you go to your Knights Templar meetings, do you really wear white gloves and a make-believe uniform?" – as Breivik has described doing in his Manifesto 2083. Once again, the monstrous self-appointed "Savior of Norway" was reduced to his obvious core: one of society's losers who spun a crazy, extreme-right web around himself and killed people out of bloodlust to compensate for his pathetic life. Point for Inga Engh.

The local media have zeroed in on the prosecutor as she conducts the trial of a lifetime. While 52-year-old judge Wenche Elizabeth Arntzen maintains the measured, presidential distance expected of her, Inga – as she is known in this country where everyone calls each other by their first name – is the ideal opponent, who has been dubbed "Ice Angel" and other star-making monikers.

It is certainly not wrong to describe Engh as the top of her profession. Her boss, Jørn Maurud, picked her deliberately for the job. "She is an extremely competent prosecutor with a very quick grasp of how to ask questions so she gets the relevant information," the head of Oslo's public prosecution office told the local paper Dagbladet.

But as for Engh, when she is asked about herself or the task at hand, she says as little as possible. At press briefings following court sessions, she routinely declines to answer any personal questions.

Needing extra help with the kids

She was a bit more forthcoming last December, when news broke that it would be she, along with fellow prosecutor Svein Holden, who would be handling the Breivik case. She told the Drammens Tidene that on the day of the Breivik attack – July 22, 2011 – she was home, standing in the kitchen with some wet laundry in her hands, when she heard a muffled explosion. It was the bomb going off in Oslo's government district.

Engh did not, however, think anything much about the sound as she prepared to drive south for a family holiday in Arendal on the "Norwegian Riviera." They were just leaving Oslo when a colleague called her on her mobile: "Have you left town yet?" he asked. Puzzled, Engh asked why he was asking.

"Turn on the radio," he said.

The day's attacks were monopolizing the air waves, and Engh was afraid of the impact on her kids that the chaotic jumble of interviews, live coverage, and commentary would have. She quickly realized that Norway would face tough times as a nation after an attack like this. What she didn't know was that she would be playing a major role in it all.

The Breivik trial hasn't only changed Engh's professional life; a lot has changed in her private life as well. The prosecutor's father, Abel Engh, has stepped in to help take care of her children. He's taking a two-month sabbatical from his own work as an independent consultant. "From now on, I'm a Grandpa and nothing else," Abel Engh told the Drammens Tidene newspaper.

Inga Engh's husband is helping too: "He has to take the kids to kindergarten, and fetch them more often," Engh recently told a TV interviewer.

Professional distance

From the time she was a young child, Engh is said to have been unusually aware of injustice. When teachers treated students unfairly or classmates were mobbed she would get angry. By high school, she'd decided she wanted to be a public prosecutor. Her mother no doubt played a role this decision – she had dreamt of, but never pursued, a career in law.

Engh was ambitious, and after passing her state law exams moved to New York City to work at the United Nations. "That was the steepest learning curve I ever faced," she would say later. "All the others had several years experience in international law, and were a lot more competitive than Norwegians tend to be."

But her own competitive drive was alive and well, and back home it didn't take her long to land a job in the public prosecution office. She was just 32, still childless at that point -- and she worked around the clock. When she became a mother, she realized quickly that motherhood and that kind of dedication to her job weren't going to mesh – but it took another life event to ground her.

Three years ago, her second son was born prematurely. The baby was in the hospital for four months before he could come home – and it wasn't clear for a while that he would make it. He survived, but Engh says the experience taught her what it felt like to be a small piece of a much bigger system, vulnerable and full of unanswered questions. "And it made me face the question: how do I treat the people who contact me about what is happening to them?"

Engh comes across in court as self-possessed, sometimes bordering on cool. She cross-examines Breivik relentlessly, repeats questions, won't let him off the hook when he tries a "no comment."

She read the charges against him as flatly as she might recite names from the phone book – except that the words were about blood and gore, lacerated organs, bullets in brains, livers, hearts and lungs, horrific pain. "I'm not emotional; I do my job," she told a reporter last week when asked about how she felt reading the charges.

Engh may have a professional approach, but she also has strong feelings about it. Before the trial, she stated that it was hard to stand the testimony of people who lived through the horror. "It was particularly bad when I went with the police to Utøya Island," she says. "Now I have a bit more distance. I don't know how it came about, or how to describe it beyond saying it's a kind of professional remove."

For the prosecutor at the center of the Anders Breivik trial, it is a good quality to have.

Read the original article in German

Photo - YouTube

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
Society

Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum

-Analysis-

SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.


It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS
MOST READ