Major firm hit by bribery charges

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Fertilizer and chemical company Yara International, one of Norway’s most global firms, has been charged on suspicion of paying bribes in connection with business ventures in Libya and India. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that police raided the offices of Yara on Wedesday.

Yara's current CEO, Jørgen Ole Haslestad, doesn't seem at all happy with his predecessor Thorleif Enger as he grapples with bribery charges stemming from Enger's time as CEO. PHOTO: Yara.com

Norway’s special economic crimes unit Økokrim has charged Yara with violation of the Norwegian penal code paragraph 276a, which involves what the Norwegians generally call korrupsjon (corruption). In this case, Yara itself informed the Oslo Stock Exchange on Thursday that the charges involve possible “criminal offenses” made when Yara was negotiating with Libyan officials over its investment in a fertilizer plant at Marsa El Brega, and a payment of USD 1 million made “to a third party” when Yara was negotiating a joint venture for the production and sale of fertilizer in India.

The project in India “was not realized,” Yara reported, while the Libyan fertilizer plant was up and running until earlier this year when fighting began between Libyan dictator Muammar Gadhafi and opposition forces. It remains closed.

Yara’s president and chief executive, Jørgen Ole Haslestad, called the charges “very serious” and said Yara was cooperating with the criminal investigation. Haslestad, who assumed the top job at Yara in the fall of 2008, has been careful to distance himself from the alleged bribery and Thursday’s press release from Yara specified that it “occurred before October 2008” in the Libyan case and during the period 2006-2007 in the Indian case.

Haslestad has all but blamed the trouble on his predecessor, Thorleif Enger, telling newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) that “I think it would have been natural” for Enger to have alerted him about the questionable payments tied to the India and Libya projects.  Haslestad also noted in Wednesday’s press release that he was “satisfied” that an investigation Yara initiated “has brought this matter to the surface, but disappointed that the information did not come at an earlier stage if it emerges that Yara has committed an offense.”

Enger has declined to comment on the bribery scandal at Yara, pending the ongoing investigation.

Yara reported record earnings for 2010 earlier this week and claimed its production facilities were now running at “optimal capacity,” with commodity prices rising sharply during the second half of last year. Haslestad has claimed Yara is performing well in expanding markets.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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