Norway's Yara, the world's largest nitrogen fertilizer maker, has been charged with suspected corruption involving a possible $1-million (U.S.) bribe in India during efforts to create a joint venture.
Norway's white-collar crime unit, which is also investigating a suspected irregular payment by Yara in Libya, said it has filed "gross corruption" charges in a separate case dating back four or five years.
"The suspicion is related to possible bribery related to the company's project in India at the time," chief public prosecutor Marianne Djupesland told Reuters.
In Norway, "charges" are a prelude to full investigation and do not necessarily mean prosecution will follow. Ms. Djupesland said the penalty for a company found guilty of gross corruption is a fine of undetermined size.
"Our aim is to find facts that can confirm any suspicion but also facts that could eliminate suspicion," said Ms. Djupesland, whose unit is called the National Authority for Investigation and Prosecution of Economic and Environmental Crime.
Yara said it learned of the Indian payment during its own externally-led probe of the Libya case, which began last month.
"In connection with the ongoing (Libyan) investigation process, a Yara employee has brought forward information relating to a separate matter (in India)," Yara said.
Yara's shares fell 3.72 per cent, against a 1.67 per cent fall in Oslo's main index.
"There was made a payment to an external consultant, and the payment was $1 million, and exactly who made the payment and who knew about this internally is of course part of the investigation," said company spokesman Bernhard Stormyr.
"The fact that the payment was made came as a surprise because it was debated (at the time) whether or not an external consultant was needed," he added. "It was actually decided that external consultancy was not needed."
The company said the 2006-2007 project to establish an Indian joint venture for the production and sale of fertilizer was not actually realized.
"Regardless of what (the police) conclude, these charges are very serious for Yara," Yara CEO Joergen Ole Haslestad said.
"We are cooperating... and await the results of the investigation. I am satisfied that the investigation we have initiated has brought this matter to the surface, but disappointed that the information did not come at an earlier stage if it emerges that Yara has committed an offence."
Ms. Djupesand said an individual found guilty of the same charges would face up to 10 years in prison.
"The charge in this case is directed towards the company and the penal reaction towards a company would be a fine," she said.
"The fact that the company came forward and announced their cooperation could of course have an influence on the potential size of a fine."