Iran’s threats to terminate all business contracts with companies from countries whose media published the infamous Mohammed cartoons might be a blessing in disguise for Statoil, the partly privatised oil company ranked as Norway’s biggest company.
After paying USD 6 million in ‘consultation fees’ to the son of Iran’s ex-president, another USD 3 million in fines for bribery, and investing some USD 327 million before tax in developing Iran’s South Pars gas field, the company was recently forced to write down the entire book value of its share in the project.
With 10 percent of the work left before completion, the project has stalled due to problems created by an Iranian partner. Statoil’s position is not made easier by the fact that their Iranian partners are all owned by the same culprit: the Iranian state, ultimately run by the 12-man Guardian Council, overseen by the Ayatollah Khamane’I, a man ranked as number nine on Parade’s annual list of the world worst dictators.
A possible Iranian trade boycott of Norway similar to that imposed on Denmark today, terminating all bilateral business contracts, will effectively put an end to the scandal-ridden loss-making project that has done so much to damage Statoil’s international reputation.
One can only assume that this also will put an end to the buy-back scheme under which Statoil was to be reimbursed for its expenses. However, what else is to be expected when you are dealing with a totalitarian regime renown for frequently disregarding any legal rights its citizens may lay claim to.
On state ownership
Of course, with a strong Norwegian tradition for state-run everything, it’s three biggest companies being part-privatised former state monopolies, it is perhaps understandable, if not excusable, that no eye-brows were raised in Statoil over the fact that they were dealing with an all-powerful state who happened to own all the contractors they were dealing with.
Talking about state-owned companies, there’s a rumour on the grapevine that well-placed policymakers in the Norwegian state and counties are eager to sell off the right to run other state-owned ventures such as public transport and the rail network, though of course retaining the right to control it. It would be so nice to have someone else to foot the bill and shift the blame on when neglected infrastructure goes haywire. Trains anyone? Trams? A nice under-invested rail network?