Tax lawyer Sverre E Koch said he planned to report Morten Eriksen, the top prosecutor of Norway’s economic crime unit Økokrim, for serious dereliction of duty. Koch was fully acquitted from any further appeal in the Transocean tax case on Wednesday, and was finally free to speak out against the way the case had been handled.
Koch, a tax law expert and partner at law firm Thommessen, was one of three tax advisers acquitted alongside a number of Transocean companies earlier this month. The nine year investigation into Transocean, the world’s largest offshore rig company, was the biggest tax fraud case in Norway’s history. Prosecutors said on Wednesday they would be appealing three of the five matters decided in the judgment, but expressly excluded Koch’s acquittal from the appeal.
Koch had not commented in the media since he first became a suspect in 2007. On Friday he broke his silence in a piece written for newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN), saying Eriksen had acted improperly and Koch was drawing up a case to take to the police. “Morten Eriksen at Økokrim has abused his prosecutor’s role by providing information to the tax office, which the tax office should not have,” Koch argued.
Abuse of authority
Transocean and the two Ernst & Young tax advisers were indicted in 2011, when Koch still had the status of a suspect in the case. The defendants were told that no more prosecutions would be made, but when Koch tried to get an update on his status from Økokrim, his inquiries went unanswered. In October, he too was prosecuted.
Koch believed his prosecution arose after the tax office got access to his emails, which Økokrim had seized. “The charge against me came about two and a half weeks after Transocean’s lawyers complained that the tax office had gotten access to Økokrim’s seized documents,” he claimed. “Among others, the tax office had access to emails from me.” He argued that was an abuse of authority.
“Nothing happened between June and October which should indicate that I also be charged,” said Koch. “If Økokrim had believed what I had done was so punishable, Økokrim would have prosecuted me at the same time as the others in June 2011.”
He also accused Eriksen of a “reprehensible and inadequate investigation,” which he said would be further elaborated on in his case to the police.
Not out for revenge
Koch accused Eriksen of using the accused advisers as scarecrows. “There has become a very different awareness in the adviser area that you must be careful when you participate in providing information to the tax authorities on behalf of a client,” he said.
Koch hoped Eriksen would be punished as a result of his police report. “When I am reporting, it is because I believe that there are grounds to be judged for this. This is not a desire for revenge, but public employees must also tolerate being poked.”
As well as reporting Økokrim, Koch warned he would also seek compensation. “It is clear that there’s going to be some, but the scale we’ll look at,” he said.
He warned the marathon case would also end up costing the state several hundred million kroner. “When the other defendants are also acquitted after the appeal case, the justice minister will have to appoint a commission to investigate,” he wrote in his opinion piece. “No one is served by the prosecutors and other public agencies not following society’s rules of play.”
Eriksen welcomed report
“In my view a review is a good solution so that an independent institution can consider the issue,” Eriksen told DN. “The allegations he puts forward are completely unfounded. But he has freedom of speech like everyone else.” He said Koch had already made the allegations on three previous occasions during the trial.
Økokrim department leader Petter Nordeng said Koch’s complaints were not trifling issues. “But by reporting a review he limits our opportunity to go into detail on this case,” Nordeng said. “It is difficult to recognize the criticism, but I can not go into more detail.”
He said Transocean and the advisers were investigated because suspicions of gross tax fraud go to the very heart of what Økokrim works on. “We evaluate all cases, and there are always things we can improve on,” said Nordeng. “But I cannot say anything specific in relation to this case.”
Nordeng said the matter would now go to the Bureau for the Investigation of Police Affairs (Spesialenheten for politisaker).