Police have launched an investigation into the mysterious death last week of wealthy shipping heiress Ellen Ugland, who inherited a major stake in one of Norway’s largest ship-owning operations just a few months ago and then was found dead herself at age 57.
A medical examiner initially had linked Ugland’s death to natural causes, possibly heart failure, but results of an autopsy showing medically blocked air pipes and loss of oxygen to the brain set off a full murder investigation.
Ugland’s body was found, fully clothed and dressed to go outdoors, on the floor of an apartment she used at Lysaker, just outside Oslo. She reportedly had been in good health and was expected to visit her niece last Monday morning. Newspaper VG reported that when she failed to turn up, her worried niece sent her husband to the apartment, where Ugland’s body was found in the entry hall.
The death has generated national press coverage in Norway because Ugland had only recently inherited a major stake in the branch of the Ugland family’s shipping empire that had been controlled by her late husband Johan Jørgen Ugland, who died at the age of 88 in March. Just the shares in his vast international shipping holdings have been valued at more than NOK 3 billion (around USD 500 million) and his 31-year-younger widow and former secretary had inherited 45 percent of them.
The other 55 percent was earmarked for Johan Jørgen Ugland’s grandson Knut Nikolai Tønnevold Ugland, age 24, after the elder Ugland all but disinherited his own two sons Lars and Jørgen with token, obligatory inheritances of just NOK 1 million (about USD 160,000) each and his daughter (Knut’s mother) with NOK 5 million. Lars Ugland had publicly spoken earlier this year about how he had fallen out of favour with his father and that relations with his four-year-younger “stepmother” Ellen were strained.
Both Lars, who lives on the Isle of Man, and Jørgen told reporters last week, though, that they were shocked police suspect she was murdered. Police were actively seeking tips from neighbours, trying to track down the owner of a car that had been using Ellen Ugland’s parking place in the apartment complex’s garage and sending in teams of technical investigators to both the flat and Ugland’s main home in Grimstad, in southern Norway.
Grandson takes over
The dead woman’s lawyer released information over the weekend that her shares in the Ugland shipping empire would now be taken over by Knut Nikolai Tønnevold Ugland, giving him 100 percent control of JJ Ugland, the shipowning firm (rederiet) that also owns offshore enerprise Nymo. The stake will be overseen, however, by a management committee until Knut Nikolai Tønnevold Ugland turns 35.
The younger Ugland told newspaper VG over the weekend that he wasn’t entirely sure why his grandfather, the late Johan Jørgen Ugland, had singled him out among his own children and grandchildren to take over the company. Knut Ugland said, however, that he and his grandfather shared many interests, he had worked in the company since he was 14 and was a sindig mann (modest man) like his grandfather. The elder Ugland was long believed to frown on what he considered the lavish lifestyle led by his son Lars, while his other son runs a machine leasing business.