Tor Holba, a longtime top executive at Oslo-based fertilizer firm Yara International, has been fired after an Oslo court convicted him and three other former Yara bosses on corruption charges last week. He has appealed his conviction and prison term of two years, but Yara didn’t want to wait for a final outcome in what’s been Norway’s biggest corruption case ever.
“He (Holba) has received a notice of termination of employment,” Yara spokesman Bernhard Stormyr confirmed to newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) on Wednesday. “It is because of the conviction in the first round in court.”
Holba was the only one of the four men convicted in the Yara corruption scandal who was still formally employed at the company when they were first charged. He lost his top management post but was working as chief of integration operations in Brazil when he and the others were indicted last year, at which point he was suspended. Yara, spun off from Norwegian industrial firm Norsk Hydro in 2004, is one of Norway’s largest companies, in which the state has a 36 percent ownership stake.
Holba, who had headed Yara’s major and ill-fated investment in a production plant in Libya, has consistently claimed he was the whistle-blower in the Yara scandal and had nothing to do with payments made to the son of a top Libyan official. The payments were viewed as bribes and the court did not believe Holba’s claims that he was not involved in them. Holba was, however, only charged with contributing to corruption tied to Yara’s Libyan operation and not in India. His co-defendants, former Yara CEO Thorleif Enger and executive vice president Ken Wallace, were charged and convicted of corruption in both Libya and India. The fourth co-defendant, Daniel Clauw, was convicted of corruption in India. They are also appealing, with Clauw’s attorney, Fredrik Berg, stating that his client, for example, “will continue to fight for a full acquittal” because “we believe that the ruling is based on a wrong interpretation of the law and fundamental misunderstandings of Mr Clauw’s business conduct in India.”
DN reported that Holba’s conviction surprised many in Yara, where Holba was part of its founding top management team and earlier had a long career in Hydro. His defense attorney confirmed his firing but wouldn’t say how Holba has reacted.
“It is correct that Yara has unilaterally terminated Tor Holba,” attorney Nadia C Hall told DN. “The two sides have, meanwhile, agreed to postpone the consequences of this until a court verdict is in force.”
That suggests Holba, age 59, will still receive some compensation and benefits from Yara, but Yara said Holba has not been offered any form of severance package. Yara’s spokesman wouldn’t respond to questions about Holba’s response to his firing either. “It is difficult to go into all the details of an internal discussion on a personnel matter,” Stormyr told DN. “We’ll just restrain ourselves to saying that he has been terminated.”