The corruption trial of former executives of fertilizer firm Yara International was halted on Tuesday after the judge wanted to know whether one of the defendants, Yara’s former chief legal officer Ken Wallace, had been formally charged in the case when he was questioned by police in France nearly three years ago.
Wallace, an American citizen who has homes in the US and France, was arrested in Paris in March 2012 and questioned by French police for two days. Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported that now there’s a question as to whether his answers can be used in the Norwegian court, because prosecutor Marianne Djupesland couldn’t immediately confirm that he’d undergone questioning before or after actually being charged in the case.
DN reported that Wallace was being challenged in court by Djupesland on Tuesday when the judge intervened because of concerns Wallace may incriminate himself. In his own opening defense statement on Monday, he had said that several of the things he had told French police were wrong. He had claimed that Yara management officials, “either (co-defendants Daniel) Clauw or (Tor) Holba,” had instructed him to pay USD 1.5 million to Mohamed Ghanem, the son of Libya’s oil minister at the time, but now he doesn’t think that was right. He said he wasn’t allowed to consult documents in the case when being questioned by the French police, and simply remembered things incorrectly when he incriminated Holba and Clauw. The four defendants in the case, all former top executives at Yara, have been pointing fingers at one another in the run-up to the trial that began last week.
Wallace thus seem to withdraw his own allegations against Holba and Clauw while he also admitted to not only transferring the money to Ghanem but also doing it secretly. That, he said in court, was because both Ghanem and Yara wanted their financial arrangement, allegedly meant to compensate Ghanem for consulting services, to remain confidential. The payments to Ghanem were thus made by a Swiss supplier that did business with Yara that in turn then overbilled Yara on other business deals to recoup the money. It remained unclear why Ghanem’s consulting services were worth as much as USD 1.5 million to Yara.
Wallace insisted the payments made to Ghanem in March 2007 were not bribes, however. He said Yara wanted to hide the payments simply because management had been spooked by a corruption case against Statoil that had just just concluded at the time. They feared that payments made to a relative of a government official would automatically be viewed as a bribe, even though Wallace didn’t view it that way. Yara wanted to avoid what Wallace called the “media circus” that plagued Statoil.
Prosecutor Djupesland, meanwhile, faced the task of confirming Wallace’s status when he was questioned nearly three years ago and which rights he was accorded. DN reported that she was also instructed to inform the Oslo court about who else had been formally charged in the Yara case when Wallace was questioned. The Yara case was due to resume on Wednesday, with the prosecution suddenly challenged by a legal technicality.