Norwegian companies are joining others from all over the world in eyeing new opportunities in Iran, after sanctions against Iran were lifted earlier this month. Statoil, which got into trouble in Iran on an earlier occasion, has been warned to think real hard before doing business in Iran again.
“I would recommend all companies in Norway check out opportunities in Iran, but Statoil is in a special situation,” Bijan Khajehpour, director of consulting firm Atieh International in Vienna, told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN). He was referring to the scandal that DN itself revealed in 2003, after Statoil had signed a consulting agreement worth NOK 115 million with a company called Horton Investments. Horton was backed by Mehdi Hashemi, son of former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, and a few months later Statoil won a deal to develop part of the South Pars gas field off Iran.
Statoil ended up being fined heavily and settling with US authorities over corruption charges. The scandal, one of Norway’s first big corruption cases, also resulted in Statoil’s chief executive, chairman and another top company director all losing their jobs. DN also reported that Mehdi Hashemi was sentenced last year to 10 years in prison for his role in the Statoil case and others as well.
“Statoil has to be extra careful before it goes back to Iran,” agreed Trond Omdal, analyst at brokerage firm Pareto, told DN. He has done work for both Statoil and Iran’s national oil company. The company is being careful, responded Statoil spokesperson Knut Rostad.
“The Horton case was serious and changed the way we work with anti-corruption measures throughout the organization,” Rostad said. Beyond that, he wouldn’t comment on how Statoil was evaluating possibilities in Iran.