Corruption concern grows at dairy

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Norway’s large farmer-owned dairy co-op Tine, which controls 80 percent of the market for dairy products in the country, remains caught in a corruption investigation that expanded this week. The man at the center of the probe is no longer a top official at one of Tine’s main packaging suppliers, Tetra Pak, and now Tine has reported other concerns of possible bribery in its own purchasing department to police investigators.

Norway’s dominant dairy co-op Tine, which unveiled its new special milk cartons for the upcoming Easter holidays this week, is caught in a corruption probe involving former purchasing officials. Easter mystery stories and cartoons, meanwhile, will decorate 15 million Tine cartons sold during the Easter week. These new cartons are manufactured by Elopak, a competitor of the Tetra Pak firm that’s under investigation for possible bribery. PHOTO: Tine

Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported Friday that Tom Bjøre, who was Tetra Pak’s top seller in Norway because of all the business he did with Tine, has been released from his contract at Tetra Pak. “No, he is no longer employed in the company,” Tetra Pak’s communications director Eva Milton confirmed in an email to DN. She wrote that she “unfortunately,” however, couldn’t comment on the reason for Bjøre’s departure. Bjøre’s lawyer couldn’t be reached for comment, despite repeated efforts.

Bjøre worked closely for several years with Tine’s former purchasing director, Hårek Skotnes, who retired from Tine last year. DN reported earlier this year that Bjøre, over the course of four years, had treated Skotnes to meals, travel and entertainment including 145 dinners and 246 rounds of drinks. Receipts to which DN was given access also showed that Bjøre, on behalf of Tetra Pak, also paid for spa visits, gifts and entry tickets for Skotnes that have attracted the interest of investigators at Norway’s economic crimes unit of the state police, Økokrim.

Tine is still doing business with Tetra Pak, which developed what Tine calls this “even more environmentally friendly” milk carton. PHOTO: Tine

Tetra Pak reportedly launched its own internal investigation of Bjøre’s expense accounts, which the company initially claimed could be “justified” by “good business-oriented reasons.”  Bjøre’s lawyer Nadia Hall also said that Bjøre “looked forward” to “clarify” the situation to police. DN reported Friday that Hall didn’t respond to repeated calls for comment on Bjøre’s departure from Tetra Pak. Milton would not comment on the status of Tetra Pak’s own investigation into Bjøre’s relations with Tine’s purchasing director.

Tine officials, meanwhile, were so concerned by all meals, drinks and entertainment that its own retired purchasing director had accepted that it reported the case to Økokrim investigators, who showed up unannounced at Tetra Pak shortly thereafter. Tine officials were reportedly surprised by news of Bjøre’s departure this week.

A Tine spokesman said the dairy coop has had meetings with both Tetra Pak and its rival Elopak, which had reacted negatively to the close ties between Tetra Pak’s salesman and the man responsible for purchasing in Tine’s management. Tine continues to do business with both companies, though. “We have had meetings with both Elopak and Tetra Pak,” Tine spokesman Lars Galtung, told DN. “Our business relations must go one,” he added, since Tine needs packaging for its dairy products.

Tine reports more concerns to Økokrim
DN reported this week that Tine has also alerted investigators at Økokrim to another case of questionable travel activity involving one of its former employees in its purchasing department. Two Tine suppliers have told DN that the Tine employee had asked them to arrange trips in which he would take part himself.

DN has been in contact with several Tine suppliers that deliver goods and services to the dairy co-op that controls roughly 80 percent of the market for dairy products in Norway. Tine also serves as Norway’s so-called “market regulator” of the country’s protected agricultural sector, to keep prices high and restrict competition from foreign dairy products as part of government policy to support Norwegian farmers.

That’s why allegations of corruption within the Tine system are so serious. DN reported that various suppliers spoke of years of travel with the Tine purchasing agent that began in the early 2000s and continued until 2014. The man no longer works for Tine.

DN reported that it remained unclear who paid for all the travel and who initiated it. Three suppliers said they had billed parts of the travel expenses to Tine, but Tine reportedly could find no record of paying them. That investigation remains underway as well.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund