Shipowner hit by lawsuit and probe

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One of Norway’s major shipowning firms, Torvald Klaveness, is under investigation for allegedly paying bribes. Klaveness is also the target of a major lawsuit filed by a customer that claims it systematically has been overcharged for transporting its cargo.

Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported on Wednesday that the state police’s economic crimes unit Økokrim is probing both the shipowning firm and the two brothers who have owned it, Tom Erik Klaveness and Trond Harald Klaveness. Økokrim investigators suspect that Klaveness, acting through a broker in London, has paid bribes in Bahrain to secure cargo contracts.

Now, reports DN, the aluminum producer Aluminium Bahrain BSC (Alba) has filed suit against the company Torvald Klaveness and the two Klaveness brothers in the Oslo city court (Oslo Tingrett), seeking compensation of NOK 530 million (USD 91 million) to cover the losses it claims to have suffered by being allegedly overcharged. Alba, according to DN, believes that amounts paid by Klaveness to broker Victor Dahdaleh included alleged bribes that were passed on in the price Alba paid for transport of alumina from Australia over a 10-year period, from 1994 to 2004.

Claims and counterclaims
The state of Bahrain owns a majority stake in Alba. The alleged bribes are claimed to have gone to former executives of Alba and authorities in Bahrain. The current chairman of Alba, Mahmood Al-Kooheji, told DN that the company has confidence it will receive a fair trial in the Norwegian court.

Alba also sued the US-based aluminum giant Alcoa, which delivered the alumina that Klaveness transported, in the US. DN reported that the case ended with a settlement last fall, in which Alcoa agreed to pay USD 85 million to Alba. Al-Kooheji said Alba was “disappointed” that Klaveness hasn’t chosen to settle in the same manner as Alcoa did.

Al-Kooheji claimed to DN that the broker’s “secret partnership with Klaveness,” the payment of several million dollars in bribes and Alba’s resulting losses are “well-documented.” He claimed Klaveness also failed to pass on savings it realized on the return transport of caustic soda to Australia, also brokered by Dahdaleh. He was arrested in the fall of 2011 and charged with corruption by the Serious Fraud Office in the UK. Dahdaleh denies any criminal offense, and his case is due to be heard in a London court this spring.

Klaveness contacted Økokrim
Trond Harald Klaveness told DN that he couldn’t comment in detail on Alba’s lawsuit, since a judicial process and an investigation are in progress. Klaveness, though, has filed a counterclaim against Alba, alleging it had no grounds for cancelling its shipping contracts. Klaveness claims Alba owes it USD 60 million, and has launched an arbitration case in London. He confirmed that Økokrim has charged both him and his brother with possible violation of anti-corruption laws from July 2003 to March 2004, after the brothers themselves took contact with Økokrim in 2010. They had, among other things, reacted to the size of the commissions paid to the broker, which had grown to a level far above what was considered usual.

“It’s not uncommon for companies to take legal steps to protect their own interests,” Trond Harald Klaveness, who serves as chairman of the shipowning firm Torvald Klaveness, told DN. “Our claim in London is tied to what we believe is Alba’s failure to meet obligations tied to a cargo contract entered into with one of our companies in 2008. We can’t comment on the background for Alba’s lawsuit, other than we disagree with its basis.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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