No Plain Sailing For Kvaerner Group Chief Following Corruption Charges

Corporate Norway may lose one of its brightest stars after it emerged last night that police have charged Kjell Inge Rokke, the flamboyant chairman of Kvaerner group and the majority owner of England’s Wimbledon football club, with corruption.

Mr Rokke, who is 43, owns almost half of the oil and gas and construction group after he saved the firm from bankruptcy last year. He is often said to be Norway's richest citizen.

Oslo police allege that Mr Rokke, who started off his career as a fisherman, paid maritime officials some $12,000 in bribes in order to obtain an advanced qualification which would allow him to pilot his luxury yacht, the 17-metre Cellina Bella.

Mr Rokke has not directly denied the allegation but has hired top lawyers to defend himself and has emphasised that he has many years of experience in operating large and small commercial and leisure vessels.

He has also made it clear that he is ready “to take the consequences” if found guilty and admitted that he is capable of making mistakes “like everyone else”.

“I've been charged with something serious and I take that seriously,” he told Norwegian newspaper VG.

The allegations come at a particularly sensitive time for Mr Rokke, he has just launched an investigation into Kvaerner's former AngloNorwegian management team.

If he is found guilty of the charges, which are to be heard by an Oslo court this autumn, he could be sent to jail and may face a fine calculated on the basis of his wealth, estimated at several hundred million dollars.

If he were indicted there is also a possibility that he may be disqualified from holding corporate office.

“As far as we're concerned this is a personal matter for Mr Rokke,” a Kvaerner spokesman said last night When asked whether Mr Rokke would be able to remain chairman if found guilty, he said: "We're taking advice on this. It's a little unclear right now."

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