Owner’s resignation relieves Westerdals

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The decision by a member of one of Norway’s most prominent family dynasties, the Løvenskiolds, to resign as head of the firm owning the Westerdals communications school has been welcomed by Westerdals’ new administrators. Nicolai Løvenskiold withdrew in an effort to remove any doubts over investigations into the school’s financing that already have sparked compensation claims from the state and former students.

Clouds had been building up over the private Westerdals communications school for years, with the storm of complaints and charges breaking open last fall after a series of articles in newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN). PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Clouds had been building up over the private Westerdals communications school for years, with the storm of complaints and charges breaking open last fall after a series of articles in newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN). PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

“We think this is a correct decision, to avoid any doubt that all evaluations and decisions will be made purely in the school’s best interests,” Tine Widerøe, who took over as rector of the deeply troubled private school last month, wrote in an email to newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN). “We are confident that our owners will act in a way that will enable the school to develop.”

DN revealed last autum how brothers Nicolai and Peder Løvenskiold, who have had controlling ownership interests in Westerdals for years, were behind a series of transactions and mergers that ultimately led to them withdrawing more than NOK 100 million in dividends. The dividend payment violated state law, since Westerdals also received financial support from the state, and Westerdals was also found to have overcharged students for many years. The state education ministry filed a compensation claim for NOK 28 million against Westerdals owners earlier this week, following the revelations of financial irregularities, and reported the case to police. Former students are demanding compensation as well and more claims loom.

Resignation ‘best for the company’
At issue is whether the Løvenskiold brothers, part of a wealthy family that extends back to the days of Danish nobility in Norway, further enriched themselves at the expense of students and the state. Nicolai Løvenskiold, who also served as administrator and chairman of Westerdals when several of the alleged violations occurred, has stayed mum but issued a press release on Thursday announcing his resignation as head of Anthon B Nilsen Utdanning, the company owning Westerdals and several other private high schools in Oslo. He stated that he did not want to be part of “the process” that will evaluate Westerdals operations and liability.

“I have therefore asked the board (of Anthon B Nilsen) to withdraw,” Løvenskiold wrote. “It is the best for the company.”

The release also stated that Løvenskiold will remain “available” to Anthon B Nilsen’s board and management as they prepare for a parliamentary hearing on the charges against Westerdals later this month. Løvenskiold has been called to testify at the hearing, as has Education Minister Torbjørn Røe Isaksen.

Mounting claims
Claims against Westerdals, which today is the product of a merger in 2014 of three schools under Anthon B Nilsen’s ownership, may amount to well over NOK 100 million. It remains unclear whether Norway’s economic crimes unit Økokrim will also file fraud charges against Westerdals leadership and owners.

The new administrators who took over last month are making clear efforts to distance themselves from the troubles that built up between 2002 and last year. “Our highest priority now is to make sure that current and future students, along with employees, aren’t affected by these (troubles) that extend long back in time and involved another school (the original Westerdals before its merger with two others),” Widerøe wrote.

That may not bode well for as many as 1,300 former Westerdals who were overcharged tuition from 2002 until 2012. Løvenskiold himself once again refused to respond to questions.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund