In Norway, the Cozy World of Finance Collides with the Public Interest
Norway is often held up as the exception to the so-called “resource curse”—a successful, well-managed country that has managed to escape the corruption and inequality so often rife in other oil-rich nations. An emerging scandal involving the $1 trillion sovereign wealth fund, a Sting concert, and a private jet known as the “Crystal Skye” is now threatening that reputation.
Last September, Yngve Slyngstad, the longtime manager of Norges Bank Investment Management (NBIM), Norway’s oil wealth fund, announced he would step down. Before his successor was picked—but after this announcement—Mr. Slyngstad traveled to the University of Pennsylvania for a private event that featured performances by Sting. Mr. Slyngstad then traveled home on a chartered luxury plane procured by the conference organizer, Nicolai Tangen, rather than taking the commercial flights booked for him by the oil fund. Mr. Tangen is the founder of the UK-based (and Cayman Islands registered) hedge fund AKO Capital. Soon after the conference, Mr. Tangen was announced as the next head of the oil fund in an announcement largely called a “surprise pick.” Mr. Tangen will step away from AKO Capital to take this position.
This week it came to light that Mr. Tangen followed up Mr. Slyngstad’s conference attendance with a request for a little “favor.” The fairness of the whole process is now in question, although Mr. Slyngstad denies having any influence over his successor pick.
Pending investigation, it is not yet known if Mr. Tangen’s request (or the lavish conference) tainted the process. But the mere appearance of impropriety may be enough to undo Norway’s pristine reputation. In other contexts, it is exactly these types of gifts—luxury travel, fancy concerts and meals, paid vacations—that undergird Foreign Corrupt Practice Act violations. Corrupt payments need not be (and rarely are) money passed under the table. The exchange of travel for a favor is a sadly classic form of bribery. Whatever transpired between Mr. Tangen and Mr. Slyngstad, a lasting effect will surely be a new hard look at exactly how free from the curse Norway actually is.
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- Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA)
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