Svalbard businessman confesses to bribery

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Robert Hermansen was once one of Svalbard’s greatest modern-day heroes. Now he faces prison after finally admitting that he accepted NOK 4 million in what the court system defines as bribes.

Hermansen is the former chairman and chief executive of the world’s northernmost mining company, Store Norske Spitsbergen Kullkompani. He turned it from being a heavily subsidized state company into a profitable venture and there’s even a bust of him in the city of Longyearbyen on Norway’s Arctic archipelago of Svalbard.

But he ended up accepting a total of NOK 4 million from the shipping company that transported Store Norske’s coal from Svalbard, Kristian Jebsens Rederi, in return for dropping any bidding for the job. Jebsens secured what a consulting company hired in by Store Norske after Hermansen retired in 2008 called “remarkably long-term and expensive” contracts.

An investigation was launched last year into Hermansen’s dealings with Jebsens, resulting in bribery charges and his confession late last week. “This is a relief, really, for Hermansen and for many others,” his lawyer Frode Sulland told news bureau NTB. “He’s humble and willing to take the punishment the court will hand out.”

Hermansen, now 72, had a long and distinguished career before heading for Svalbard 20 years ago. He’s the brother of Tormod Hermansen, the former chief executive of telecoms giant Telenor.

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