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Fraud probe into local company linked with oil baron can continue

Fraud probe into local company linked with oil baron can continue

Tuesday 22 October 2019

Fraud probe into local company linked with oil baron can continue


A fraud investigation by the Attorney General into a local trust company linked with a Norwegian oil baron will be able to continue after the Royal Court disagreed that it would breach his human rights.

The judgment, which goes against multi-millionaire Berge Gerdt Larsen, was delivered yesterday.

Mr Larsen was convicted of defrauding his own company and tax evasion to protect his riches of around $106million in 2013, but was acquitted on appeal three years later.

AttorneyGeneralRobertMacRae.jpg

Pictured: Jersey's Attorney General, Robert MacRae QC.

According to Norwegian media, he is now suing the state for record damages of 900 NOK, which he says is the amount of income and wealth lost in the period between his indictment and acquittal. 

Ahead of the appeal in 2016, Jersey’s Attorney General, Robert MacRae QC, named Mr Larsen as a ‘person under investigation’ locally due to company activity involving local firm Volaw – a probe he wished to continue following the acquittal.

Volaw resisted complying with the investigation on the grounds it violated the privilege against self-incrimination, but the Privy Council dismissed the argument in June. 

Mr Larsen, meanwhile, challenged the notice by applying for Judicial Review in Jersey’s Royal Court in August.

However, yesterday it handed down a decision, finding that the Attorney General’s investigation notice was lawful on all grounds. 

files paperwork paper

Pictured: The Attorney General had served a notice under the Investigation of Fraud Law.

It had been suggested that the planned probe breached Mr Larsen’s “presumption of innocence” under the European Convention of Human Rights, as well as his “right to respect for his private life”, but the Court did not support these arguments. 

Commisissioner Julian Clyde-Smith – sitting with Jurats Blampied and Pitman – commented in the judgment that Mr MacRae’s “good faith is not challenged”, adding that it would be “exceptional for this Court to interfere” with his ability to conduct probes under the Investigation of Fraud Law.

In his judgment, the Commissioner even went to far as to observe that a claim to “protection against self-incrimination” (PSI) may in and of itself provide “sufficient basis for an investigation and the Notice, which gave rise to the PSI claim, is a necessary tool in that investigation.” 

“We see no serious irregularities in the Attorney General’s approach or the adoption by him of an unlawful policy sufficient to surmount the Court’s very strict self-denying ordinance in relation to decisions of investigators, whose decisions are rightly even more difficult to challenge than decisions of prosecutors,” he said.

The Attorney General said he welcomed the judgment, adding: “I am pleased that the Court agrees that the pursuit of investigations by the Attorney General is not constrained by who or what may have been suspected at the outset of an investigation. 

“It is equally significant that the Court has found that a claim to privilege against self-incrimination in respect of documents sought under notice may provide a sufficient basis for investigation."

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