Bus boss admits to taking bribes

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A bribery scandal involving the Oslo area’s main bus company, now called Unibuss, kept rolling on Tuesday after one of the Unibuss bosses charged in the case admitted to taking bribes from the German bus producer MAN. A total of eight persons are now charged, with Unibuss’ top boss in custody.

Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported Tuesday that Unibuss’ 58-year-old technical chief admitted that he received NOK 3.1 million (about USD 565,000) in bribes but claims he didn’t keep all the money himself. Rather, he says he shared the money, which was dealt out in Budapest, with others, according to his defense attorney Fredrik Sollie.

The 58-year-old was arrested in mid-September and charged with accepting bribes. He is now cooperating with police, reported DN.

More charges filed
Two more persons were formally charged last week in the bribery case, which involves alleged payments from MAN officials who then won bidding rounds for delivery of new busses in 2004 and 2005. MAN thus beat out rivals Scania, Volvo and Daimler in selling its busses to bus operators.

The bribes linked to Norwegian bus company officials, including the technical chief and a 67-year-old former purchasing chief, emerged as part of the German police’s investigation of MAN, which began in 2009. A court ruling last summer revealed that bribes allegedly paid out by MAN officials also involved Unibuss, the publicly owned transit firm for the City of Oslo that formerly was known as Sporveisbussene AS. In addition to the city bus lines, Unibuss operates the express bus service to the Torp airport at Sandefjord and the Rygge airport outside Moss, plus lavprisekspressen.no, Unibuss tur and Tønsberg Bussreiser. Unibuss has more than 1,500 employees.

Internal investigation, too
The German investigation into MAN prompted Unibuss’ board to launch an internal investigation as well. Now Unibuss’ chief executive, Helge Leite, is also among those charged and in custody. The corruption charges against him, however, involve alleged fraud connected to building projects at his private home. Police believe Leite arranged for Unibuss to pay for the construction workers’ invoices, but Leite denies the charges.

“The police still haven’t presented any evidence that he hasn’t paid his own bills,” Leite’s defense attorney, John Christian Elden, wrote to DN.

A 49-year-old Unibuss employee who has admitted approving bills for work that never involved Unibuss property, along with a construction worker from Follo, are both charged with fraud.

City auditors had raised questions
Unibuss’ board appointed a new acting chief executive, Øystein Svendsen, since Leite is in jail. Unibuss chairman Cato Hellesjø said Leite’s position would be “clarified” once he’s released.

City auditors, meanwhile, had sent a critical report to Unibuss’ management in 2009, citing a lack of control over purchasing routines. DN reported that Tore Berg, now a board member of Unibuss, was chief executive at the time and also when the MAN bribes allegedly were paid. Berg declined comment.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund