Monday 23rd December 2002

Law firm caught up in Toenne tragedy

BA-HR has ranked as one of Oslo's most powerful and prestigious law firms. Now Norway's white-collar crime unit has fined one its lawyers, others are directly involved in the controversy around the late Tore Toenne and businessman Kjell Inge Roekke, and the firm itself is grappling with serious internal conflict.

It's been a rough autumn for BA-HR. First one of its lawyers was linked to another scandal involving the now-defunct Finance Credit. Then the firm was ripped apart by a conflict between its managing director, its senior partner and ultimately its board, which in turn was tied to questionable payments the firm handled from Roekke to Toenne.

Toenne got word Friday that he was under indictment on fraud charges tied to the payments. He later disappeared and was found dead Saturday, in what police have ruled an apparent suicide.

Norway's white-collar crime unit (Okokrim), which indicted Toenne, also charged BA-HR lawyer Oyvind Eriksen with violating accounting rules. Eriksen allegedly submitted unspecified bills to Aker RGI Holding AS, controlled by Roekke and one of the firm's major clients.

Okokrim claimed the bills didn't adequately describe services rendered, which included consulting services delivered by Toenne in connection with Aker RGI's takeover of Kvaerner.

BA-HR, it's claimed, actually was billing Aker RGI on behalf of Toenne, not itself, even though that wasn't made clear. BA-HR later passed on NOK 1.5 million (about USD 200,000) it received from Roekke's Aker RGI to Toenne.

That payment sparked more trouble, because Toenne performed the consulting services while still receiving state severance pay after his government service ended. BA-HR's managing director questioned whether it was appropriate, and was later suspended amidst charges she was disloyal to the firm.

Eriksen of BA-HR has agreed to pay a fine of NOK 50,000 in connection with Okokrim's charges, and said he was sorry he hadn't properly specified the bill.

BA-HR's involvement in the Toenne case has raised questions about the firm, which counts the son of former prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland among its partners.

Aftenposten English Web Desk
Nina Berglund