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Norway Statoil CEO Resigns

September 23, 2003

OSLO, Norway (AP) _ Olav Fjell, chief executive of Statoil ASA, resigned early Tuesday after an emergency board meeting on allegations that Norway’s biggest company was involved in a bribery scandal while seeking to expand in Iran.

Fjell was the third executive to leave in a week. Late Sunday, chairman Leif Terje Loeddesoel resigned, citing the controversy over whether the company made improper payments to Iranian-operated Horton Investment Ltd. in a $15 million deal to smooth business development deals in Iran.

Statoil’s board of directors was criticized by labor unions for keeping Fjell aboard despite the deal.

Last week, Norway’s economic crime unit Oekokrim raided the state-controlled company’s headquarters in Stavanger, seeking evidence to determine whether the contract involved corruption. Statoil is 82 percent owned by the government.

In a statement sent after midnight, Statoil’s board hoped Fjell’s decision would ``normalize″ the situation in the company.″

Chief financial officer Inge Ketil Hansen was tapped to be acting CEO.

``We had a discussion and agreed that this was the best solution,″ Fjell said as he was escorted from Statoil’s offices in the capital, Oslo, in the pouring rain by a security guard. Fjell said the decision had been unanimous.

Statoil planned to hold a news conference Tuesday.

Oekokrim has yet to decide if the contract led to any form of corruption or other improprieties. Statoil has said the company is cooperating fully with the investigation.

Fjell ended the contract with Horton last week and Statoil’s head of international exploration and productions, Richard J. Hubbard, resigned at the same time.

Statoil, which was founded by the government in 1972, is seeking to expand internationally as a cushion against the day petroleum exploration and removal declines in Norwegian waters. Norway is the world’s third largest oil exporter after Saudi Arabia and Russia.

However, the company has said it wants to maintain the same high ethical standards abroad as would be expected of it while working at home.

Statoil, founded to oversee the country’s oil interests, was partly privatized in 2001 when the state sold 17.5 percent of its shares to investors.

Norway pumps more than 3 million barrels of oil plus natural gas per day.


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