CEO’s defense cites ‘conspiracy theory’

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The former chief executive officer of Oslo-based industrial firm Yara has fallen victim to a “conspiracy theory” formed by state prosecutors who failed to present sufficient evidence against him, claimed the defense attorney for Yara’s founding CEO Thorleif Enger. The three-month trial into corruption at Yara during his tenure was winding down this week.

Enger’s high-profile defense attorney Ellen Holager Andenæs, a former top police official and state prosecutor herself, began her closing arguments on Monday by insisting once again that Enger had no knowledge of the so-called “consulting agreements” that prosecutors claim were bribes. Enger and three of his executive vice presidents at Yara are under indictment for serious corruption in the form of alleged bribes agreed with and partially paid to the sons of officials in India and Libya, where Enger’s administration was trying to set up new Yara operations.

‘Quite dramatic’
Enger retired in 2008 but was charged and later indicted last year, as were his former corporate officers Tor Holba, Daniel Clauw and Ken Wallace. Prosecutors are seeking prison terms of up to seven years for all of them, with Enger facing six years in prison.

His defense attorney, however, claimed in court that the case against him is built on a “quite dramatic conspiracy theory.” Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported Tuesday on how she lashed out at the prosecutors and Norway’s white-collar crime unit Økokrim, arguing that it simply wasn’t credible that Enger “would ally himself with his legal director (Wallace) to carry out bribery.”

Wallace is the only one of the four defendants who has admitted that he knew about the agreements that included questionable million-dollar payments to the son of Libya’s former oil minister. Prosecutors have relied on what Wallace initially told police under questioning, that the former and now deceased minister had said that Yara’s team needed to “sort out” details of the deal “with my son.” Wallace later changed his story, testifying in court that he no longer could correctly remember details and had erred under questioning.

‘So abnormal’
Andenæs argued that Enger “must have been able to rely on his legal director” and that prosecutors’ allegations of corruption and “double plays” by Enger “are so abnormal that strong evidence is required to give it any foundation. The court must also search for what the motive was.”

It’s been established that none of the four defendants personally profited from the alleged bribery deals, although all of them were paid well by Yara, especially Clauw. Yara was eager at the time to expand its huge global fertilizer operations into both Libya and India, and prosecutors contend they resorted to corruption in order to do so. The company itself accepted a record large fine last year and thus avoided having to defend itself from the corruption charges in court.

Defense attorneys for Clauw and the other defendants have also demanded “full acquittal” for their clients, with Clauw’s attorney Fredrik Berg arguing that the state “misunderstood” Norway’s laws and should have charged the men with influence peddling instead. “Can (prosecutors) have made such a fundamental mistake?” Berg asked rhetorically. “Yes, that’s what happened. The court’s verdict should be an acquittal.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund