Yara appeals trial to call new witnesses

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Yara International’s former executive in charge of legal issues was testifying in court this week as he and three former colleagues try to overturn their corruption convictions. Several others involved in Yara’s contested business dealings in Libya and India will be testifying for the first time as the case proceeds this autumn, with defense attorneys for the convicted executives claiming they will cast new light over Norway’s biggest corruption case ever.

Ken Wallace, a US citizen who was part of Yara’s former top management team, took the witness stand this week. Wallace, age 71, continues to deny he approved payment of any bribes when Yara was expanding into Libya and India, and he has appealed a two-and-a-half year jail term handed down earlier by the Oslo City Court.

Wallace wrote Yara’s ethical guidelines
Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported Wednesday how Wallace spent around three hours accounting for Yara’s ill-fated activities in Libya when the country was still under the Ghadafi regime. Under questioning, it emerged that Wallace himself had written Yara’s own ethical guidelines, which included anti-corruption measures. Wallace reportedly formulated questions meant to control corruption like “Is this right? Is this legal?” and whether any questionable activity would put Yara in a bad light if it became publicly known. Wallace acknowledged that it was his responsibility that the guidelines be followed.

He nonethless chose to approve USD 1.5 million in payments made from Yara to Mohamed Ghanem, the son of Libya’s former oil minister, Shukri Ghanem who also was chairman of Libya’s state oil company. Prosecutors contend the payments were bribes, administered through a company that cooperated with Yara’s Swiss subsidiary, Balderton. They claim Wallace met with Ghanem four times, in Bahrain, London, Dubai and Qatar, and that the agreement Wallace approved between Yara and Ghanem in 2007 called for Yara to pay him as much as USD 4.5 million.

“Defense counsel believes the money had nothing to do with (Ghanem’s) pappa’s position,” prosecutor Bård Thoresen said during opening arguments last week. “We believe the money transfers came about because of pappa’s influential position, and gave an advantage to Yara.”

Millions were ‘ordinary consulting fees’
Wallace testified Tuesday that “Mohamed” was merely an adviser in connection with several transactions, and was simply paid for the work he did. Wallace acknowledged Ghanem was the son of the oil minister, but that he had his own career as a financial adviser in an investment bank. DN reported that Wallace’s answers did not satisfy Thorsen, who asked the same question about Yara’s professed demands for openness four times before the judge told him to move on.

Mohamed Ghanem, who also faces in Switzerland and the Netherlands for alleged laundering of money that belongs to Libyan authorities, is among the former foreign business associates of Yara who will be presenting taped testimony for the first time in the huge corruption case. The former associates did not appear in court during the initial trial of Wallace, former Yara CEO Thorleif Enger and former colleagues Tor Holba and Daniel Clauw. DN reported that Ghanem, Balderton leader Nejdet Baysan and Zafer Nahawi, Yara’s and Norsk Hydro’s former longtime contact in the Middle East, will offer new information tied to Yara’s activity in Libya.

Also reported to be presenting evidence for the first time is Ely Calil, who controlled a company that DN reported was involved in Yara’s payments to the son of high-ranking Indian bureaucrat Jivtesh Singh Maini. DN has reported that the son, Gurpretesh Singh Maini, received USD 1 million from Yara, which prosecutors also contend amounted to bribery. Yara’s former CEO Enger, who is appealing his conviction and three-year jail term for bribery, has claimed the money, paid via Calil’s Lebanese company, amounted to ordinary consulting fees. Calil has since stated he will not be “giving evidence,” according to his lawyer in London. “As we see this, the advantage Yara has paid Gurpretesh Maini is corruption,” prosecutor Helene Bærug Hansen stated in court last week.

Wallace vs Enger
Ellen Holager Andenæs, defense attorney for Enger, said during opening arguments as the ex-Yara bosses’ trial got underway last week that new information will also be revealed showing what happened with at least some of the money paid to Ghanem. Her client contends he wasn’t even aware of Yara’s agreement with Ghanem, and she suggested in court that Enger wouldn’t have approved it. That seems to pit him against his own former subordinates who did arrange the payments, including Wallace. She further asked the jury to be critical to the testimony of American citizens (like Wallace) because they’re also under pressure from authorities in the US, and don’t want to face charges there as well.

The ex-Yara bosses’ appeals trial may thus get nasty as it continues through the autumn, as each of the four former colleagues looks out for himself. The major issue will be over what constitutes a bribe, what Yara received for the alleged bribes it paid out, how influential the fathers of the alleged bribe-takers really were and whether defendant Clauw can even face legal charges in Norway, since he’s a French citizen who allegedly lost management influence at Yara as early as 2006 and left the company in 2007.

“We will perhaps hear that (the money paid out to Yara’s “consultants”) isn’t bribes, but really just consulting fees,” lead prosecutor Marianne Djupesland said in last week’s opening arguments. “We don’t think that’s right.” The trial will run into December, with rulings due early next year.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund