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Saturday, March 2, 2024

Extortion, pollution plague industrialist

Kjell Inge Røkke, one of Norway’s wealthiest men, has been having some trying times of late. Not only has his company Aker BP been cited for massive chemical spills off an oil platform, Røkke himself had to appear in court this week to testify against an alleged extortionist. The latter case has attracted the most media attention.

Industrialist Kjell Inge Røkke, one of Norway’s wealthiest men, was surrounded by reporters outside the courtroom in Oslo this week, where he had to testify as the victim of alleged extortion. PHOTO: NRK screen grab

Røkke is the reluctant victim in the court case against alleged extortionist and loan shark Jan Erik “Jannik” Iversen, often referred to as a “torpedo” in Norwegian. Police have charged Iversen with extortion and threatening Røkke over a three-month period that began in late 2017.

Prosecutors claim that Iversen threatened to go public with “unfavourable” information about Røkke, if the billionaire failed to pay him as much as NOK 20 million over an extended period. Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) was among media reporting Wednesday how the amount came to light when both men testified how Røkke, in a meeting with Iversen, was confronted with two decks of cards, one emblazoned with kroner amounts of NOK 2-, 3- or 4 million and another with three, four and five years. Røkke was offered the chance to choose cards himself to determine how much he should pay to Iversen.

‘Hush money’
When Røkke allegedly asked whether that didn’t amount to extortion, Iversen allegedly replied that “no, it’s hush money.” If Røkke paid, Iversen would keep the allegedly unfavourable information about Røkke to himself.

“I told him that it would be difficult for me to go to the accounting office and explain that I’d entered into a hush-money agreement,” Røkke testified. He also claimed that he never would have paid and let Iversen know that, setting off an alleged torrent of complaints and threats from Iversen that also extended to Røkke’s son Kristian Monsen Røkke and others connected to Røkke.

The nature of Iversen’s “unfavourable information” remained unclear after the first two days of the four-day trial this week. The 62-year-old Iversen, who has a record of five convictions for making threats and violating weapons laws, is also charged in this week’s case with possession of a switchblade and an electric shock weapon that police found while ransacking his home in January last year.

Alleged extortionist Jan Erik “Jannik” Iversen was also getting lots of media attention, charged with having threatened Røkke. PHOTO: NRK screen grab

His anger directed at Røkke stems from a series of articles published in newspaper VG in the summer of 2017. They revealed accounts of a quarrel over tapes that allegedly tied Røkke to the shooting 15 years ago of another Norwegian man now in jail, Christer Tromsdal. Iversen claims Røkke hired him to “remove” Tromsdal because Tromsdal was in possession of the tapes that were in turn tied to a so-called “boat license scandal” in which Røkke was involved several years ago. Røkke was indicted and convicted for bribing a Swedish boat inspector to issue him a license to operate a large new yacht at the time.

Røkke firmly denies that he ever hired “Jannik” to carry out any assignment. He claims he only became acquainted with Iversen through his now-deceased ex-wife Kari Monsen, who later had a partner who knew Iversen. That’s also how Røkke’s son, Kristian Monsen Røkke, came to know Iversen.

The younger Røkke testified in the complicated case on Wednesday, with state broadcaster NRK reporting that he “had no doubt” Iversen ws threatening his father. In relating an incident outside Aker’s company headquarters at Fornebu in 2017, Monsen Røkke described Iversen as “completely rabid, he was furious with my father. He claimed after the VG stories appeared that Kjell Inge was trying to destroy his life. He was clear that Kjell Inge Røkke deserved to be beaten up, that he’d destroyed his life and that he owed him money.” Asked whether he knew whether his father had paid Iversen for any jobs, the younger Røkke answered, “no.”

‘Lose-lose situation’
Iversen denies all the charges against him, claiming he never made any threats. He testified when the trial opened on Tuesday, tough, that Røkke had ordered the “removal” of Tromsdal, whom Iversen shot in the knee back in 2004 during the boat license scandal. Tromsdal has been called to testify in the trial as well, along with several other prominent Oslo attorneys who were involved in the boat license trial. One of them, former police official Ellen Holager Andenæs, called the entire trial “a farce.”

DN commentator Eva Grinde wrote on Wednesday that the trial is at any rate a “nightmare case” and a “lose-lose situation” for Røkke, because it’s dredged up issues from nearly 20 years ago that Røkke “would gladly have kept under the radar.” Faced with a choice of living with extortion and threats or reporting Iversen to police, however, he chose the latter. “It remains to be seen,” Grinde wrote, “whether he’ll manage to give a plausible clarification as to why he ever cooperated with one of the Oslo underworld’s most notorious sharks, without setting himself in a doubtful light.”

Røkke has also had some trouble at his Ivar Aasen oil platform, which unleashed excessive chemicals into the North Sea west of Haugesund. PHOTO: Aker BP

Polluting seas to be saved
Meanwhile, Røkke has had other embarrassments on his hands lately. Just as his new research expedition vessel REV Ocean that’s supposed to help save the seas was cruising into a Norwegian shipyard to begin interior fittings work late last month, came news that Norway’s environmental directorate was considering reporting Røkke’s Aker BP to police. During a routine inspection on board Aker BP’s Ivar Aasen platform, officials discovered that the platform had unleased “enormous amounts of chemicals” into the sea, much more than is allowed.

“There are two things that are extremely serious here,” Bjørn Bjørnstad of the Miljødirektoratet told DN. He cited “considerably excess spills … of poisonous chemicals” along with concerns that those responsible “didn’t do anything about it.” Aker BP did not deny the allegations and apologized.

“We have released more than we have had permission to release,” Aker BP spokesman Ole Johan Faret told DN. “This should never have happened.” He claimed the company had launched an internal investigation and engaged an outside firm to assess “possible environmental consequences.” He claimed the company had reported the spills and been “open” about them. They come at a time when the Norwegian government is campaigning to clean up the seas around the world.

“Aker BP is concerned about operating in line with all environmental regulations,” Faret added. “As a company we have failed in this case, and it is a management responsibility.”

Røkke’s REV Ocean vessel is due for completion next year. PHOTO: VARD

The chemical spill is ironic given how Røkke has invested heavily in the REV Ocean project and hired away the former head of WWF in Norway, Nina Jensen, to be its managing director. The vessel is billed as the world’s largest ocean research ship and is costing more than NOK 4 billion (USD 444 million) to build. With the slogan “One Healthy Ocean,” REV Ocean will have room for as many as 60 researchers and “innovators” on board who will pursue “solution-oriented research tied to … the effect of carbon emissions on the seas, pollution from plastics and non-sustainable fishing.”

The vessel is now being outfitted with research equipment at the VARD shipyard near Ålesund before sailing back to a yard in Germany to be finished as what the yard boss also called “a luxury yacht.” Røkke, who launched his career in the fishing industry, built his first large factory trawler at VARD 30 years ago and called his new REV “a platform for gathering knowledge … to evolve innovative solutions to address challenges and opportunities connected to the seas.” Berglund



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