STOCKHOLM, Sweden — Ten years ago, Kristina Svartholm would have been the last person to believe that shadowy US agencies were messing with the Swedish justice system.
An emeritus professor of linguistics at Stockholm University, she is a model of academic respectability, in her round spectacles and white linen blouse — far from the common stereotype of a conspiracy theorist.
But then her son Gottfrid became one of Sweden’s leading internet freedom activists — first, in 2001, building The Pirate Bay file-sharing site, and then in 2009 becoming heavily involved with WikiLeaks.
Now he’s in court appealing a two-year sentence for, among other things, hacking into Scandinavia's largest bank and transferring funds into the accounts of two Somali men.
Kristina Svartholm can't believe that's true.
"He’s been involved with WikiLeaks. That’s the only reason I can see today for why all this is happening," his mother told GlobalPost.
In June, a judge ruled that Gottfrid Svartholm was guilty of hacking into IT company Logica’s network, and also into Nordea Bank. The appeal proceedings concluded last week, and the court will give its verdict on Sept. 18.
Svartholm admits that data linking him to the two hacking cases were on one of the computers seized at his apartment in Cambodia in 2012.
But he claims that someone else carried out the illegal hacking with his equipment before deleting all traces of their presence, something US hacker Jacob Appelbaum told the appeals court last week was more than possible.
He was extremely critical of the forensic police report that pointed the finger at Svartholm.
"If it was written by a student that I supervised, I would have failed it," Appelbaum said, according to Computer Sweden.
Kristina Svartholm now suspects this is all somehow a set-up — that her son is really being punished for something else.
"To me, as a decent member of society, to begin with, I couldn’t believe this was true, but the more I've seen, the more I’ve lost my faith in what I was brought up to believe," she said.
For nearly a year now, Svartholm has been visiting her son almost weekly as he moves between jails and pre-trial detention facilities.
"He manages well. I really can’t understand how," she said. "He’s laughing. He’s crazy. When we meet, he’s telling stories: what he’s read, what he’s seen on the telly, his newly acquired insights into the criminal world of Sweden."
She smarts at the suggestion that her son was in hiding when he was arrested by local police in Cambodia at Sweden's behest last September.
"Oh no, he never disappeared. You just had to Google him and you found a picture of the house where he was living," she said. "The Swedish police didn’t do that, but that was definitely no problem."
Gottfrid Svartholm moved to Cambodia after he and the other two founders of The Pirate Bay were sentenced in Sweden for enabling copyright infringement. He knew he would become liable for a $5 million fine if he ever earned money in Sweden. It was in Cambodia that he did most of his work with WikiLeaks.
His mother visited him there several times, just as she had when he moved to Mexico at 18 on a one-year contract for a security consultancy. (There, he built The Pirate Bay in his spare time.)
This month, she's still attending every day of the trial that she can, hoping to see her son released on appeal.
She refuses to accept that he would have been involved in crime for monetary gain.
"I know my son and I know that he’s not interested in money. He’s not interested in material things," she said. When police confiscated her son's belongings, seized in Cambodia, they all fit into a single bag, she added.
"It’s so ridiculous. If you know this guy, if you know the slightest, smallest thing about him, you can’t believe it."
Adding to the elder Svartholm’s suspicion are the strange, confused circumstances of her son's arrest.
For three days after he was seized, the Swedish embassy would say only that he was being held by the Cambodian police. The lack of detail terrified her.
"I was screaming and I think even crying over the phone to this person here in Sweden, and I said: ‘Send someone to talk to him so that I know [he’s OK].’ I can just remember screaming ‘find him for me.’"
Svartholm eventually learned — from the long-delayed answer to a request under the Freedom of the Press Act, Sweden’s equivalent of the US Freedom of Information Act — that the Swedish foreign ministry had known her son's whereabouts and that Swedish police and diplomats had been in touch with him.
Those revelations have caused her to suspect that there are hidden forces at work.
"I can't understand why they didn't tell me, ‘We have Swedish police there and they have met him, so please be quiet.' It was so secret. There were so many secret things here."
When Svartholm was first arrested, spokespeople for the Swedish embassy and the Swedish police both told the press he was being extradited — though Cambodia and Sweden had no extradition agreement — to serve the one-year sentence he was given in connection with The Pirate Bay.
But as soon as he arrived on Swedish soil, he was taken into pre-trial detention for a new hacking case.
Waiting at the airport to meet her son, his mother learned from a policeman that she wouldn’t be the one to greet him.
"He told me that he had been taken to the police for questioning, and I said, ‘being questioned? What’s that? He said: ‘It’s a special group within the police, at a higher level. Länskriminalen.' And it was then that I realized that there must really be something else."
It would be three weeks before she could meet her son, and another two months before the first hacking charge was joined by a second, more serious charge of hacking a bank to transfer money.
Then, on June 5, the very last day of the Swedish hacking trial, the prosecutor presented a request to extradite Svartholm to Denmark — where, it was revealed, he was suspected of further hacking crimes.
The timing of the Danish request has given Svartholm’s mother one more thing to ponder.
"I can’t understand it. I don’t want to be blamed for being a hysterical mother trying to defend her son, talking about the other side as being terrible. I try to look intellectually on this and try to see what has happened and why it has happened. But I still can't understand why. I have so many questions."