Felled by Trade with Western Sahara. President resigns.

Paul-Christian Rieber, president of the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise (NHO), has for years traded with a country that Norwegian authorities have asked the business community to avoid. That may have been the main reason he resigned yesterday. Aftenposten, 24 April 2010.

Published 12 May 2010

Story below appeared in Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten, 24 April 2010.
Translation by Western Sahara Resource Watch 


Paul-Christian Rieber, president of the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise (NHO), has for years traded with a country that Norwegian authorities have asked the business community to avoid. That may have been the main reason he resigned yesterday. Aftenposten, 24 April 2010.

By Siri Gedde-Dahl
24 April 2010
Read original here (in Norwegian)

A little past 8 o’clock on Saturday morning NHO's vice-president, Kristin Skogen Lund, received a message from NHO President Paul-Christian Rieber to the effect that he was resigning from office with immediate effect. As Skogen Lund received the press in a steady stream throughout the afternoon, the new NHO president asserted that Rieber's resignation came as a complete surprise to her. 

Rieber stated that "consideration for NHO" was the reason for his resignation.

“He has always been preoccupied with what is best for NHO. I think it is sad that the situation has become such that he has to resign. He has been a good president,” Skogen Lund said.

Customs mistake. The trouble around the NHO president started long before Easter, when the program 'Uppdrag gransking' ('Assignment Investigation') on Swedish television focused on GC Rieber Oil's purchase of fish oil from Western Sahara. Norwegian authorities believe that the Moroccan occupation of the area is contrary to human rights and have therefore asked the Norwegian business community to stay away from the area.

Friends of the Earth Norway has revealed that the buyer of the fish oil that Rieber imports from the disputed area is the state-owned fish-feed company EWOS. Friends of the Earth Norway recently also disclosed that CG Rieber Oils has given the customs authorities misleading information.

Friends of the Earth Norway claims that the incorrect coding has been deliberate and is a cover-up to conceal that state-owned EWOS uses fish oil from Western Sahara, at the same time that EWOS’s owner, the state, requests that the area be boycotted

"Nonsense!" “That there exists a conspiracy between EWOS and Rieber is pure nonsense,” Kjell Bjordal, chairman of the board of EWOS, stated.

The fish oil has been customs declared as if it came from Morocco, not from Western Sahara. Moreover, in the customs papers it was declared to be for human consumption, not for fish feed.

Neither the EWOS chairman nor Gunnar Album, fishery advisor to Friends of the Earth Norway, the man behind the revelations, believes that Rieber Oils can enrich itself economically by means of such a handling of the customs forms. Even though fish oil for human consumption is exempt from duty, and animal feed generally has customs duty, fish oil for fish feed is exempted from duty. GC Rieber Oils would automatically have been exempted if they had ticked off for animal feed and applied to the Norwegian Agricultural Authority to come in under the exemption for fish feed, the two believe.

The head of the Agricultural Authority, Ola Christian Rygh, confirms that there is a general customs exemption for fish feed. He will nevertheless not confirm that Rieber would have received exemption if he had applied, quite simply because Western Sahara is not included in the customs tariff; it is not a recognized country.

Pause for Thought. Kristin Skog Lund was silent for a long time when Aftenposten asked, “Can NHO live with having its leading representative trade with a country that Norwegian authorities have asked companies not to trade with?”

After having withdrawn to confer with one of her NHO advisors, Skogen Lund answered, “NHO advises its representatives to follow the authorities' guidelines. With regard to Rieber, he has finished.”

Skogen Lund referred to the fact that Rieber Oils have terminated trade with Western Sahara. This did not happen as a result of a "settlement" but because EWOS no longer wanted to purchase the oil. The fish feed company got cold feet after the revelations in ‘Assignment Investigation’ and statements by Norwegian authorities afterwards.

Met the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. On 8 April the board of directors of Rieber Oils and the board of EWOS and its parent company Cermaq had a meeting with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, during which the Ministry made it quite clear that it did not want any trade with Western Sahara at all. According to Bjordal, it was EWOS that had asked Rieber Oils to set up this meeting. After the meeting EWOS stated that it would no longer buy Rieber oil. On 14 April Rieber Oils announced that they no longer traded with Western Sahara.

The import and resale of the fish oil has been going on for at least 5-6 years, and EWOS is supposed to have been aware of the origin the whole time.

“We have discussed this with Rieber several times and have been assured that this had been approved by the Norwegian authorities,” Bjordal said.

According to Peter Hagen, public relations head of EWOS, Rieber Oils assured them as late as during the summer of 2009 that the trade with Western Sahara had been approved with the Norwegian authorities.

Paul-Christan Rieber has earlier called the incorrect registration with regard to the customs authorities a “slip-up”. Yesterday he was not available for further comments after having sent out a press release about his resignation out of consideration for NHO's reputation.

EWOS never found it natural to inform its owner, the government, that it used products from Western Sahara. According to Sigbjørn Johnsen, the Minister of Finance and the previous chairman of the board of the parent company, Cermaq, Cermaq's board was never informed of the import. 

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