One of Norway’s wealthiest and most philanthropic families hasn’t had a very merry run-up to the Christmas holidays this year. Frederik Wilhelm Mohn, third-generation owner of the family-run Bergen-based international firm Frank Mohn AS, was reported to the state police’s white-collar crime unit (Økokrim) this week on suspicion of insider trading, just weeks after he surprisingly resigned as CEO of the successful company after only two years at the helm.
Frank Mohn AS is an international supplier of submerged cargo pumps to the shipping and offshore industry. Frederik Mohn had taken over the manager’s seat in early 2011 as successor to his popular father, Trond Mohn, best known for his philanthropy and modest lifestyle given the family’s fortune.
In October, Frederik Mohn purchased a significant amount of shares in oil rig group Songa through his investment company Perestroika AS. A few days later, Songa announced an important rig sale that spiked the share price. The purchase also increased Mohn’s ownership in Songa to 22.16 percent, reported newspaper Bergens Tidende (BT).
Frederik Mohn was at the time listed as an insider and logged a gain of around NOK 2.5 million in one day. He was since removed from the insider list, but financial authorities still reviewed the purchase after receiving a message from the Oslo Stock Exchange. They took further action when they this week handed the case over to the white-collar crime unit Økokrim.
‘Unfortunate, not illegal’
Frederik Mohn has said through his lawyer that he regrets the timing of the purchase of shares, but has kept no details hidden about it and has fully cooperated with financial authorities.
“We don’t believe this purchase is illegal insider trading, as defined by the law,” his lawyer Tom A Torkildsen, who is also chairman of the board of Perestroika AS, told BT.
Torkildsen said Frederik Mohn knew there was an option for a deal to sell the rig, the deal that took effect and spiked shares in Songa. “The deal wasn’t final or binding,” Torkildsen told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN).
“Anyone who’s well-informed in this market knew that this rig was for sale, this was public knowledge,” Torkildsen added. “It’s known what the rig is worth and what potential interested parties there are to buy it.” Torkildsen called the timing of the purchase “unfortunate” but not illegal.
At the end of November, the 35-year-old Frederik Mohn announced his resignation as CEO from his family’s company, saying in a press release that it was based on “different views about the future strategy for the company.” Speculation was and still is running high over what if any role the current investigation may have played in Mohn’s decision to leave the family firm, even though his departure occurred before the case was handed over to Økokrim.
Fredrik Mohn has made no further comments to the press about the purchase or his resignation, but his father, when interviewed about potential underlying reasons for his son’s departure, told BT: “You know, there has been a lot of coverage about other things.” When asked if the resignation could have had anything to do with the ongoing case, the elder Mohn said “yes, there might be something there,” although stressing that he knew nothing more than what his son had told the press and that his resignation came as a shock even to him.
Media-shy with a heart of gold
Trond Mohn, although media-shy, is a well-known philanthropist who has made numerous and generous donations for sports, medicine and research, primarily in Bergen where he lives, but also in Tromsø.
Mohn is therefore deeply admired in the western coastal city where he established Bergen Research Foundation in 2004 with a donation of NOK 250 million. The foundation supports research at the University of Bergen as well as at Haukeland University Hospital in Bergen.
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