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Retired police officer Eirik Jensen attends a trial at Oslo District Court in Oslo, Norway, September 18, 2017. Heiko Junge//NTB Scanpix via REUTERS


OSLO (Reuters) - A former senior Norwegian police officer was sentenced to 21 years in prison on Monday for aiding drug smugglers and taking bribes in a case that captivated a nation accustomed to clean law enforcement.

Eirik Jensen, 60, now retired, was once in charge of combating Oslo's criminal gangs. He had denied the accusations against him and his lawyer said he would appeal.

Prosecutors accused Jensen of aiding a smuggling ring for more than a decade by providing information on police and customs staffing, much of it via hundreds of cryptic mobile phone text messages, in return for illegal payments.

Jensen's co-defendant Gjermund Cappelen, who admitted organising the imports of tonnes of hashish, was the prosecution's key witness and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

"This case is unique in Norwegian legal history," Oslo District Court Judge Kim Heger said as he read the unanimous verdict against the police officer.

"Jensen has actively and deliberately contributed to a well-organised and extensive import of hashish," he said.

Jensen and his lawyers argued during the trial that the evidence of contact with criminals was merely a result of normal police work intended to extract information and that he had not received any money or gifts.

"We lost the battle, but we hope to win the war," Jensen's attorney John Christian Elden told reporters after the verdict was made public. "There will be an appeal."

Such cases are rare in Norway, ranked the world's sixth-least corrupt country by watchdog Transparency International, and this case generated vast media coverage, including an unusual live television broadcast of parts of the trial.

In neighbouring Finland, also among the least corrupt nations, the former head of Helsinki's drug squad was sentenced last year to 10 years in prison for drug smuggling, official misconduct and other crimes, including tampering with evidence. That case is the subject of an appeal.

(Reporting by Terje Solsvik; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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