The president of Norway’s most powerful business lobby and employers’ group, NHO, resigned over the weekend. Paul-Christian Rieber stepped down just days after news broke that his own family-owned company had avoided paying huge customs duties and had been importing fish oil from the controversial Western Sahara.
Rieber suddenly found himself at the center of a customs and tax scandal last week, after Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) revealed how GC Rieber Oil AS had imported fish oil under an incorrect code, and therefore avoided paying several hundred million kroner in customs duties to the state.
Rieber also had claimed its fish oil was coming from Morocco, when in fact much of it was imported from the Western Sahara. Norway’s Foreign Ministry has long warned companies against trade with Western Sahara, because of its disputed occupied territory.
Paul-Christian Rieber himself quickly admitted that the company had made an error, but called it an “oversight.” NRK could report that the “oversight” lasted for around 10 years. The state launched an investigation into Rieber’s operations and the company now faces huge fines and criminal charges.
Paul-Christian Rieber has been chairman of Rieber Oils since 1990, and the scandal caused immediate problems for Rieber as president of NHO (Næringslivets Hovedorganisasjon). Calls for his resignation arose quickly, because the tax avoidance and import violations were viewed as putting NHO in a bad light as well.
By Saturday Rieber had admitted that his company “probably” had broken the law for the past 10 years, and he’d received no public show of support from NHO. He decided to quit. He said that given “the considerable media focus” that the circumstances around Rieber’s import of fish oil had created, he had decided “out of consideration for NHO” to resign as its president with immediate effect.
He’ll be succeeded by Kristin Skogen Lund, the former managing director of newspaper Aftenposten who now holds a top executive position at telecoms firm Telenor.
Lund said Rieber “has done a good job for NHO,” and that NHO’s board thought it was “sad” that he felt it necessary to resign. She stressed that the decision to resign was his alone.
NHO, called the “Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise” in English, is the country’s main representative for Norwegian employers and currently has around 20,000 member companies. They range in size from small family-owned businesses to multinationals.