The aggrieved parties have fought to be cleared of corruption allegations for a long time. Stavanger District Court has ruled against them.
The Biofuel entrepreneurs had to go all the way to the Supreme Court in order to be granted permission to proceed further with the case. They lost.
However, Arne Helvig and Steinar Kolnes took issue with the way they were treated in Stavanger District Court. Their suspicions something was not quite correct have now been confirmed.
This is because the judge in charge of their case against Statoil received a job offer from the oil company underway. He accepted it after a few days, but continued in his then role. The Supervisory Committee For Judges now criticises him sharply.
The Biofuel entrepreneurs have tried to clear their names of corruption allegations Statoil passed on, and have demanded that the company either produces evidence supporting the claim or drops the case entirely.
The Norwegian legal system has supported Statoil regarding their view. Nevertheless, the case has now gone to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
"What is central for us is that using undisclosed sources it is impossible to defend oneself against should not be permitted, even if one's name is Statoil. We'll now see if we want to re-open the matter, something the Supervisory Committee For Judges' decision opens for. It's also a question of cost. We've spent several million kroner, money we would rather have used for investments in Ghana," says Steinar Kolnes.
Accepted Statoil's offer
Messrs Kolnes and Helvig became aware of the opposite party having offered the judge in charge of administering the case in Stavanger District Court for over a year a job after the court round in Norway and the Supreme Court having denied their right of appeal regarding the initial ruling.
Judge Lars Ole Sikkeland took over the Biofuel-Statoil case from District Court Judge Richard Saue.
Statoil first contacted Judge Sikkeland on 25th June 2012. He was offered a job on 4th July and accepted some days later.Judge Sikkeland resigned from his District Court position at the end of September, and his last day of work was on 9th November 2012.
This means he was in charge of a legal dispute for a four-month period at a time when he had accepted a job at one of the parties.
The Biofuel entrepreneurs reacted strongly to the information. Judge Sikkeland had already decided before the job offer from Statoil came that they would not be granted access to the report in which they are accused of corruption.
Their opinion is that Judge Sikkkeland made several decisions which had a bearing on the case after he had accepted Statoil's job offer. The case first came to court after he had resigned.
Worse than they thought
The Biofuel entrepreneurs lodged a complaint with the Supervisory Committee For Judges. The Committee finds that Judge Sikkeland being in charge of a legal dispute from July to November 2012 in which his future employer Statoil was one of the parties, without him having disclosed this externally or withdrawn from the case, merits criticism.
The Committee points out the Judge Sikkeland consulted Judge Saue, and they agreed that Judge Sikkeland would only handle the purely administrative tasks and not make any important decisions in the case. "Either you are a judge in the matter or not, and one is either unbiased or has a conflict of interests regarding the case. These are matters a court must take seriously, and there is no room for something in between," the Committee writes.
They point out that not making a decision is also a decision. One central example is the Biofuel entrepreneurs' demands for recorded evidence. Judge Sikkeland points out that the Court could demand that the information (about who the source was for the allegations of corruption that Statoil passed on) was disclosed, but this was not a view the Court shared. Regarding this matter, the Committee thinks Judge Sikkeland himself expresses that he acted as a judge in the case, even after he had been employed by Statoil.
The Biofuel entrepreneurs regard the Committee's ruling as a partial victory for them.
"It's a small endorsement that we've not received fair treatment in the judicial system. But the matter regarding Judge Sikkeland is a lot worse than we thought beforehand," says Arne Helvig.