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‘Russian corruption’ worried Statoil

Norwegian state oil company Statoil is so worried about rising signs of corruption in Russia, according to US documents given to WikiLeaks, that it may cause problems for Statoil’s involvement in Russia’s giant Stockman gas field in the Barents Sea. Meanwhile, there are more signs of conflict between WikiLeaks and Oslo media outlet Aftenposten, which gained access to all the documents initially leaked to the non-profit organization.

Statoil's Helge Lund (center left) signing the Stockman deal with Gazprom. PHOTO: Veronika Smolenskaya/Statoil

Statoil’s concerns were revealed Friday among the latest articles published by Aftenposten, as both its newspaper edition and website continue to report on the contents of the WikiLeaks documents. Statoil chief executive Helge Lund was reported to be “very worried” that corruption will be among several factors hindering development of the Stockman field.

Statoil was invited to participate in the field controlled by Russia’s huge Gazprom, which has a 51 percent stake in Stockman. Since the deal was announced three years ago, though, the market has been against it and delays have been many.

According to a cable written by the US ambassador to Norway, Barry White, Lund was worried about corruption and feared it was on the increase. White’s report was based on a meeting with Lund on December 18, 2009, when the two discussed Statoil’s investments in Iran, the US, Iraq, Russia and Norway.

Lund reportedly said the technology to develop Stockman is available, but he also expressed concern about a lack of infrastructure and regulation, political risks and a risk of low gas prices in the future, in addition to the corruption concerns. Lund, according to White’s leaked report, said that doing business with Gazprom was like doing business directly with the Russian government, and thus different from Statoil’s experience in doing business with Russian company Lukoil in Iraq.

Aftenposten wrote that Lund didn’t want to elaborate on the meeting with White. A Statoil spokesman claimed Statoil remained committed to the project, even though it has been repeatedly delayed. “Stockman, with its enormous gas resources, represents a considerable possibility for Statoil,” said spokesman Bård Glad Pedersen. The cooperation between Gazprom and Statoil is often viewed as a dividend of the bilateral relations between Russia and Norway but can also prove to be a test of those relations, observed the former US Ambassador to Norway, Benson Whitney.

Media conflict
Meanwhile, as Aftenposten’s use of documents leaked to WikiLeaks and then to Aftenposten itself continues, disagreement also continues between the two organizations. Aftenposten’s editors have trumpeted their access to the documents and claimed they have no agreement with WikiLeaks. Julian Assange, the legally troubled boss of WikiLeaks, told Norway’s leading business newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) this week, however, that he considers Aftenposten to be “a media partner” similar to WikiLeaks’ earlier partnerships with El País in Spain, The Guardian in the UK and Le Monde in Paris.

Aftenposten is treated like other media partners,” Assange told DN, adding that he had not read a commentary by Aftenposten editor Hilde Haugsgjerd earlier this week, in which she wrote that Assange was angry with Aftenposten since it wasn’t part of his “news monopoly.”

Haugsgjerd told DN she was “astounded” to hear Assange’s comments, insisting “we are no media partner of WikiLeaks.”

She said Assange had contact with “a couple of journalists” at Aftenposten and expressed a desire that Aftenposten become a partner. “He has also indicated he wants to talk with me, but I haven’t heard from him yet,” Haugsjerd told DN.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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