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Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Scancem rejects $5m offer to kill court case

The Statesman , 14/08/2007

In two days, barring any last minute deals, the identity of a private account in Geneva, Switzerland in which about $1.7 million was transferred as bribe monies, is expected to be disclosed.

On the orders of Norway's Supreme Court, details of the account are supposed to be provided. This should help in the appeal case this December, in which a former top employee of Scancem is accused of stealing more than $4 million meant as bribe monies to top Ghanaian personalities, namely PV Obeng and former President Jerry John Rawlings and his wife Nana Konadu Agyemang-Rawlings.

But latest information reaching The Statesman indicate that the main players in the ongoing saga, Tor Egil Kjelsaas, who was head of Scancem's cement operations in Africa, mainly Ghana and Togo, with the assistance of three of his witnesses, all former executives of Scancem, including the highly respected Gerhard Heiberg, Per Jacobsen and Tor Nygaard, and some of the alleged major Ghanaian recipients of monies from the slush fund, have recently offered Scancem a $5 million settlement to halt the continuation of the case against Tor Egil Kjelsaas, which is at the Appeal Court stage. Scancem's acceptance of the offer would also void the enforcement of the Norwegian Supreme Court’s order for the revealing of the identity of the owner(s) of the Barclays account in Switzerland.

When contacted, attorney for Scancem, Kyrre Eggen, confirmed that such an offer, as well as other offers in the past, had been received by his clients. But his clients were still pressing ahead with the case.

Pushed further, Mr Eggen, who dismissed our query that going ahead with the case might be counter-productive for Scancem, stated emphatically: "No, this is a new Scancem. We totally disapprove of what the old Scancem did.” Scancem was acquired by German firm HeidelbergCement in 1999.

All three former executives of Scancem who gave evidence in support of Tor Egil Kjelsaas, Gerhard Heiberg, former CEO and Chairman of Aker (former owners of Scancem), Per Jacobsen (head of finance, Scancem) and Tor Nygaard (who headed Scancem operations in Ghana, Ghacem) were instrumental in devising and implementing the alleged bribery scheme.

Mr Eggen had earlier told The Statesman that the German owners also intend with this trial to send a clear message that they "disapprove of the bribery scheme that was operated by the former owners of Scancem."

In 2000, a report by Scancem International ANS, led by its in-house lawyer, Arne-Jørg Selen, discovered that an account at Unibank, Luxembourg, which all along they believed belonged to PV Obeng did in fact belong to one of the men who was responsible for putting money into that account, Tor Egil Kjelsaas. About $2.5 million had gone into that account in five years, from 1993 to 1998.

Within the same period, another account held at Barclays, Geneva, Switzerland had received from Scancem another $1.7m. This account, the Scancem bosses believed belonged to Ghana’s first lady at the time, Nana Konadu Agyemang-Rawlings.

About seven years ago, the Hibis Group, a UK-based anti-fraud and anti-corruption systems firm, with a branch on Drammensveien 39, Oslo, Norway, found out for Scancem that the Unibank account was in the name of Mr Kjelsaas. But, the investigators drew a blank on the Barclays account, allegedly in the name of Mrs Rawlings.

Mr Kjelsaas’ explanation to Scancem’s internal investigators, as contained in pleadings before a Norwegian District Court last year, was that the account was in his name "because he did not want to put the recipients at risk."

A similar investigation had been done by the old bosses of Scancem (before it was sold to the German firm) by Cato Holmsen, director of administration at the time.

Holmsem concluded in his report of January 2000 that in spite of some glaring irregularities with the operations of the slush funds, he could find no evidence that Kjelsaas misappropriated the bribery monies.

He had spoken to two of the intended recipients, a Togolese Minister of Industry Payadowa Boukpessi (and later Finance Minister), who was summoned to Oslo by Scancem and Ghana’s PV Obeng and had become convinced that at least those two received the bribes, if not all, as intended.

According to Scancem’s own internal investigation, the Togolese Minister confirmed to Holmsen that he received the payments as scheduled.

Kjelsaas was said to have withdrawn cash in London or Luxembourg and passed it on to the correct recipients. His witnesses contended that Kjelsaas brought the money to Africa by air. Thus, the movements in the Luxembourg accounts, even if disclosed, would not show who ultimately got the money.

Court testimonies given and evidence before the court showed that Scancem paid amounts to other accounts during this period which were controlled by African recipients.

Tor Nygaard, who headed Scancem operations in Ghana, Ghacem, for a long time, told the court that Scancem also paid out amounts in cash locally to a number of recipients in Ghana, usually in envelopes and that the person who undertook this exercise was a top Ghanaian executive at Ghacem, Accra.

As was captured in the report filed for Dagens Naerinsgliv on April 21-22 by two of Norway’s most respected journalists, Geir Imset and Harald Vanvik, former Scancem CEO Gerhard Heiberg stated before a Norwegian court that former President Rawlings and PV Obeng were among top African personalities who received considerable payments from Scancem.

The words attributed to the witness, Mr Heiberg, in the matter before the Asker and Baerum District Court last year, according to a translation done on behalf of this paper, reads: "There were a number of people, but I don’t want to give any names. There were more than Rawlings and PV, including politicians and corporate heads."

The Rawlingses, through their lawyers, have denied receiving any such monies.

In an interview last week with our Editor-In-Chief, Asare Otchere-Darko, and Kweku Baako Jnr, Editor of theCrusading Guide, in Norway, the two journalists denied that they came to the conclusion that Mr and Mrs Rawlings received bribes, they only quoted from testimony presented by Mr Heiberg. "We cross-checked with him and he came and said that the quote was an accurate reflection of his testimony in court that PV Obeng and Mr and Mrs Rawlings were not the only recipients of bribes.

"Not only that, after publication, he granted us an interview in which he congratulated us for doing a good story."

The two reporters say they have evidence to corroborate their story, some of which is in the possession of The Statesman, and have dared the Rawlingses or anybody who believes they have been defamed by their publication to sue.

Read subsequent editions of The Statesman for more on the unfolding bribery saga

Source: The Statesman

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