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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 November, 2003, 17:21 GMT
Statoil boss declares war on corruption

By Jorn Madslien
BBC News Online business reporter

The new chairman of the Norwegian oil company Statoil has launched an internal investigation after the company was rocked by a corruption scandal that forced its senior executives to resign.

Jannik Lindbaek was appointed to the top job soon after both the energy giant's former chairman Leif Terje Loeddesoel resigned over a police probe into possible corruption in Statoil's dealings with Iran.

Statoil chairman Jannik Lindbaek. Photo: Statoil/Harald Pettersen.
Mr Lindbaek: "Statoil has very good policies with relation to the question of corruption."
The scandal, which involved incentive payments made to consultants, apparently in order to win contracts in Iran, also led to the departure of the former chief executive Olav Fjell.

"I hope, and I also believe, [this scandal] proves to be a fairly unique occurrence, and that it is not a question of a corruption culture," Mr Lindbaek said in an interview with BBC News Online.

Investigation

Mr Lindbaek has appointed the consultancy firm Ernst & Young to look through all Statoil's international consultancy agreements.

"I'm not starting from the assumption that there is a need to clean up anything from the past," Mr Lindbaek said.

"Statoil has very good policies with relation to the question of corruption," he insisted.

A summary of Ernst & Young's findings will be made available, but "the report itself will not be published", Mr Lindbaek said.

Transparency

It is no secret that oil companies regularly pay bonuses to governments and facilitation fees to companies or individuals to secure contracts - in fact, some such payments are perfectly legitimate.

But problems tend to arise when payments are kept secret, or when illegal bribes are paid to officials to speed up or secure deals.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has said it wants to outlaw such bribes.

And recently Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo urged oil firms to become more transparent and accountable.

Mr Lindbaek believes the whole oil industry is in the process of cleaning up its act.

"I believe it is perfectly possible to work in developing countries without bribing. That is also Statoil's policy," he said.

"We are publishing what we are paying. That principle is quickly gaining ground."

Indeed, Shell and BP have both signalled a willingness to declare their legal payments.

And the French oil giant Elf - whose former bosses were given prison sentences recently for embezzling money from its facilitation fund - says it no longer pays bribes.

Missing money

Mr Lindbaek has also asked Ernst & Young to investigate one of Statoil's deals in Nigeria where it has sold a 20% stake in an exploration site to the local oil company Allied Energy for $5m, apparently without ever getting paid.

The stake had been bought in 1993, and in 1997 oil was found.

When Statoil and BP, who owned 20% each, decided it was not commercially viable, they sold their stakes to Allied Energy, the owner of the remaining 60%, for a fraction of what they had paid for it.

Statoil insists the investigation into this affair is not a search for instances of corruption.

Anti-corruption

Mr Lindbaek's qualifications make him more than suitable for the Statoil chairmanship.

Statoil and Norwegian flags
Mr Lindbaek is also searching for a new chief executive for Statoil.
An economist by training, he has held senior positions with the World Bank's International Finance Corp and with the Nordic Investment Bank.

He was also the chief executive of Norway's leading insurance company Storebrand for ten years, and he is the former chairman of the former Norwegian oil company Saga Petroleum.

But it is his role as the head of the Norwegian division of the anti corruption organisation Transparency International that should give him the greatest leverage as he gets on with the task of patching up Statoil's tattered image.

"I believe I was chosen on the basis of my qualifications as a business leader, but I also believe that my involvement with Transparency International was a welcome plus," Mr Lindbaek said.

New chief

Beyond his tough stance on corruption, Mr Lindbaek is also searching for a new chief executive for Statoil.

The current caretaker chief, Inge Hansen, is in the running, but other candidates will also be considered, Mr Lindbaek said.

Statoil's next chief executive is probably going to be a Norwegian speaker with extensive industry experience and proven leadership skills.

Following Mr Lindbaek's appointment, Norwegian energy minister Einar Steensnaes expressed a desire for a female chief executive, in line with the country's push for greater female representation in the world of business.

Mr Lindbaek said he would make sure there were women on the final shortlist, but in the end the choice would not be made on the basis of the candidates' gender.

Copenhagen-based headhunting firm Egon Zehnder will help Statoil identify likely candidates.


WATCH AND LISTEN
Statoil chairman Jannik Lindbaek
"It is perfectly possible to work also in developing countries without bribing."



SEE ALSO:
Former Elf boss given five years
12 Nov 03  |  Europe
Nigeria's new war on corruption
07 Nov 03  |  Business
Embattled Statoil chief steps down
23 Sep 03  |  Business
Statoil crisis escalates
22 Sep 03  |  Business
Statoil boss survives Iran row
16 Sep 03  |  Business
Statoil signs Iran gas deal
28 Oct 02  |  Business
Norwegian gas giants avoid EU fines
17 Jul 02  |  Business
Statoil profits shrink
05 Aug 02  |  Business
Big Iranian gas deal clinched
20 Nov 03  |  Middle East
Turkey and Iran postponse gas flow
30 Jul 01  |  Middle East
Statoil's road to the bourse
22 Feb 01  |  Business


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