The Riis-case in brief

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The Riis-case in brief

Wed, 27/06/2007 - 12:02

I have been involved with this case since 1997, at first as a student, then as an in-house lawyer, and finally as a political and judicial fugitive from Norway and Luxembourg. Below follows a short account of the case.

  1. Amelia Riis’ father, shipowner Kristoffer Olsen, died in 1948. He and his wife, Dagny Olsen, had three children, Kristoffer jr., Monica, and Amelia.


  1. Kristoffer and Dagny wrote down their last will, which simply divided the fortune in three equal parts.


  1. The family didn’t divide the estate.


  1. In 1953 Jan Riis-Johannesen married to Monica Olsen. A few years later, Jan’s younger brother, Einar Riis, married to Amelia Olsen. It’s not unlikely that Kristoffer felt this a little bit uncomfortable and also threatening to his position. Einar and Amelia got two children; Kenneth Patrizio Riis (1960), and Benedicte Riis Duryea (1961).


  1. During the fifties, Kristoffer managed to (illegally) buy all his mothers shares in the shipping company, Olsen & Ugelstad AS, for the sum of some $400.000,-. The purchase amount was stolen from the company he bought.


  1. Amelia didn’t know about this fact[1] until her mother died 28th of May 1970. She didn’t know about the will either until after her mother’s death.


  1. On June 30th 1970, Olsen & Ugelstad and the German shipyard, Howaldtswerke, signed a contract on building a supertanker: TT Falkefjell. TT Falkefjell was to be delivered on November 11th 1973, and the final purchase price was set to be some $50 mill.


  1. The tanker was financed through a short-term loan from Manufacturer Hannover Trust Company (Mantrust)[2] and the Norwegian bank: Den norsk Creditbank (DnC).[3]


  1. TT Falkefjell was chartered to the Norwegian shipowner Hilmar Reksten for three years, starting from November 11th 1973. The charter hire was assigned to DnC as collateral regarding the financing of the ship.


  1. Amelia and Einar acted upon the fact they recently had become aware of, and on May 30th 1973, the Oslo Probate Court decided that Kristoffer had to deliver all the shares back to Dagny Olsen’s estate. We are talking about the fourth biggest shipping company in Norway, at that time.


  1. Shortly after this judgment, Kristoffer demanded that one of his lawyers and Einar Riis should work out and calculate the value of the shipping company for the purpose of buying Amelia Riis out of the company.


  1. In the meantime – without Amelia’s nor Einar’s knowledge – Olsen & Ugelstad went in to the loan agreement with Mantrust/DnC concerning the financing of TT Falkefjell.


  1. In connection with the loan agreement, Supreme Court lawyer, Christian Haneborg, acted as Mantrust’s special legal counsel. In his Legal Opinion of August 9th 1973, he – on contrary to his knowledge – stated that:


  1. The borrowers are in good standing and has validly and legally authorised the execution, delivery and performance of the loan agreement.
  2. The borrowers are not in violation of any law, decree, or regulation.


  1. As long as Mr Haneborg acted as a counsel and as a representative of the banks mentioned above, there are several good reasons to identify Mr Haneborg with the banks.


  1. This Legal Opinion is false and unlawful. Mr Haneborg was well aware of Amelia Riis’ demands and claims before the Probate Court, and the Probate Courts decision of May 30th 1973, which clearly was an obstacle that would obstruct any loans to the shipping company until Amelia had been bought out of the company.


  1. On top of this, the Riis-family’s lawyers had demanded – through the Probate Court – an investigation of the shipping company.


  1. In November 1973, Mr Riis and Supreme Court Lawyer, Mr. Olav Nergaard, concluded their valuation of the shipping company. Mr Riis and Mr Nergaard agreed that Amelia Riis’ part of the inheritance was approximately $22 million.


  1. On November 6th 1973, the department of Justice (by Mr. General Attorney Bjørn Haug) permitted investigation of the shipping company. Despite the gravity of the matter, both for Riis and for the shipping company, the Riis-family wasn’t notified about the governmental approval until January 1974.


  1. Early in December 1973, Mr Riis – who worked and lived in Rome[4] – was called upon whether he would be interested in negotiations on buying his wife Amelia out.


  1. At this time Olsen & Ugelstad was well aware of the department of Justice’s authorization of the investigation, which was the reason why the company and Mr Olsens representative, went into negotiations with Mr Riis, off course without informing him about this.


  1. Although Mr Riis was deprived of this new trump card, on December 5th 1973 the parties nevertheless managed to settle the dispute by agreeing that Amelia Riis was to be bought out with the bulk carrier, MS Norefjell, valued to some $9 million.


  1. The shipping company and Mr Olsen violated the agreement two days later.


  1. During the spring of 1974, the parties went into negotiations again, ending up with a new agreement dated on the 5th of April 1974 (The Eastern-agreement). This agreement stated that Amelia Riis was to be bought out with the bulk carrier, MS Sognefjell, also valued to some $9 million.


  1. Mr Riis immediately sold MS Sognefjell to an Indian shipping company for some $12 million.


  1. MS Sognefjell was to be delivered to the Riis-family on May 6th 1974. MS Sognefjell was thereafter to be handed over to the Indian shipping company the same day. The Indian crew of some 40 sailors were waiting in Rotterdam.


  1. Olsen & Ugelstad notified the Norwegian authority about the agreement, but gave (on purpose) false information concerning the value of the two parties’ contribution in the agreement. This led the Government to disapprove the essential needed export-license, although the Government were fully aware of the facts and the value of what was Riis’ contribution in the deal: Riis’ contribution was worth more than $20 million. The Riis-family was to get assets worth some $ 9 million in return.


  1. MS Sognefjell was by this reason never delivered to Riis. According to the agreement, Mr Riis therefore demanded arbitration to force the shipping company to apply for and give correct and proper information concerning the export-license to the Government.


  1. The Indian shipping company annulled the contract with Riis, since Riis – due to Olsen & Ugelstad’s violation of the agreement – was unable to deliver.


  1. Since basically nothing happened regarding the export-license, Mr Riis personally asked for a meeting with the minister of Finance, Mr. Per Kleppe. A meeting was held on August 16th 1973, and the export-license was immediately approved.


  1. But at this time, the oil crises had struck the country heavily, and the prices on second hand tonnage had plunged. Since the Olsen & Ugelstad refused to take the responsibility for the significant loss of value, the dispute on how much Riis was entitled to in compensation, concerning Olsen & Ugelstad’s breach of contract, went into arbitration.


  1. There was no doubt that Riis would get the ship, and there was no doubt that they would be compensated for the economical loss due to Olsen & Ugelstad’s breach of contract. The question before the arbitration court was rather; how much would the court appreciate Riis in addition to the ship.

*  *  *

  1. Sometime in August 1974 Hilmar Reksten stopped paying the charter hire on TT Falkefjell, se number 9 above. Due to the assignment agreement on the charter hire, this hire was to be paid to DnC directly. At the same time as Reksten stopped paying the charter hire, DnC/Mantrust demanded collateral concerning the Falkefjell-loan, or a guaranty for payment in time.


  1. Reksten’s default could easily cause a severe domino reaction on both shipyards as well as other shipowners and the banks involved in shipping.


  1. On an early stage of the crisis the Norwegian government decided to prevent a political and economical disaster, by establishing a new institution, the Norwegian Institute of Guaranty for ship and oilrigs (GI).


  1. Despite the Governments knowledge of the Norwegian shipowner’s concealed billion-dollar-fortune abroad, a fortune the shipowners quite hesitantly would spend on their own national debt, the Government asked the parliament for approximately $1 billion to rescue both shipyards as well as shipowners and in fact the banks.


  1. The Government got the authority from the mislead Parliament, and by this the Government committed a criminal act under the act of Impeachment: The Government didn’t inform the Parliament that basically every shipowner that was to be rescued through this new Institute, were in possession of several billion dollars abroad.


  1. DnC/Mantrust were – in addition to the Norwegian Government – sure on the fact that Mr Reksten had a billion-dollar fortune abroad. Since the Government had decided to rescue Reksten among others, the banks would not be allowed to call the loan, otherwise this would put an end to the planned package deal.


  1. DnC/Mantrust suggested (or was let’s say forced by the Norwegian Government due to the package deal) not to send Reksten to the bankruptcy court on (at least) one important condition; that the bank got a mortgage in MS Sognefjell, which could never be challenged by anyone, e.g. the Riis-family.


  1. Shortly after Rekstens default in August 1974, DnC/Mantrust (with necessary help from the national bank) forced Olsen & Ugelstad to give the banks an unlawful mortgage in MS Sognefjell.


  1. Everyone knew that the ship was locked to the Easter-agreement with Amelia and Einar Riis, and the shipping company could not in any circumstances use the ship as collateral. Such an illegal and criminal act would be classified as a clear violation of the contract of April 5th 1974. The banks were well aware of this fact. Nevertheless DnC/Mantrust got the mortgage in MS Sognefjell. More precisely; the mortgage was held by two lawyers, for the bank: Mr. Ole Lund (CEO of Olsen & Ugelstad) and Mr. Christian Haneborg (Mantrust’s representavive).


  1. DnC/Mantrust claims that this mortgage was arranged not earlier than 26th of April 1975. This is incorrect. As mentioned above, we have clear evidences pointing out late 1974, or more precisely, November 12th 1974 as the date when DnC/Mantrust “grabbed” the ship, as former DNC-CEO Johan Melander put it in his testimony before the Norwegian Supreme Court in 1982.


  1. But as mentioned above, a mortgage alone wasn’t, and wouldn’t be sufficient for DnC/Mantrust if the banks were to wait on acting towards Mr. Reksten. The banks needed to be absolutely sure that there was no way that Riis ever would get the inheritance and second, that Riis would never be able to sue or at least win a lawsuit against Olsen & Ugelstad, nor the banks. They needed a guaranty and we believe that the banks got it.


  1. April 28, 1975 the arbitration court gave their conclusion through a phone call from the administrator of the court, Supreme Court Judge Mr. Gunnar Aasland, to his very good and close friend, Supreme Court Lawyer Ole Lund.[5] Shockingly the conclusion was that the Easter-agreement was decided to be Null and Void.


  1. No one of the parties had ever asked for nor had they argued for such a claim and conclusion before the arbitration court.[6] By this decision Amelia Riis was deprived of her inheritance.


  1. On May 2, 1975, the arbitration court signed another judgment, this time stating that the Eastern-agreement was to be cancelled, which is by far the same as null and void.


  1. This second judgment though, wouldn’t at all fulfil the banks demands. We believe that the “null and void-judgment” was the conclusion that everyone applied to when needed,[7] and that the May 2-judgment was meant to be some kind of a diversion to keep Riis on proper distance of the whole scam.


  1. On top of this we are in possession of a receipt from the banks stating that if the arbitration court concluded that the Easter-agreement was considered null and void, the banks were obliged to annul the mortgage on MS Sognefjell.


  1. Despite the fact that no one had asked for such a result, several days before the decision was signed, the banks (and Olsen & Ugelstad) were aware of and clear on both the conclusion and what to do thereafter.


  1. By this the banks could (on April 28th 1975) write to Olsen & Ugelstad and inform them that although a basic condition of the Loan Agreement and the mortgage had been breached, the banks were willing to refrain from calling the loan, subject to the shipping company handing over other collaterals (MS Sognefjell).


  1. DnC/Mantrust went into several unlawful and also criminal actions to prevent own losses. As a direct consequence of these actions Amelia Riis never got her inheritance.


  1. In the mid eighties Riis sued Mantrust before a New York Court based on a partaking in the unlawful mortgage deed. Even though the court found that Mantrust had acted fraudulent in this matter, the court decided that the claim was barred due to the statute of limitations.


  1. This act, the unlawful mortgage deed, has also been tried before Norwegian courts. Despite the fact that DnC/Mantrust admitted in an internal note that this mortgage was unlawful towards Riis, the lawsuit ended in the Supreme Court in 1993, in brief stating that nothing was wrong in relation to DnC/Mantrust’s banking operations.


  1. We have got hold on a lot of new essential documents since that time, documents that clearly incriminate the bank and the Goverment. A former director in the National Bank (Norges Bank) admits and states that the National Bank and the minister of Finance demanded DnC to get hold on this ship, in order to stop an almost inevitable bankrupt-situation in the shipyard industry, shipping industry and in the banking business.


  1. It is not an understatement that the state of Norway was on the verge of a severe and long-term depression at the time when the government together with the banks “grabbed” Amelia Riis’ MS Sognefjell. Should one of the biggest shipowners in the world at that time, the Norwegian Hilmar Reksten, go bankrupt, this would certainly start a domino reaction that no one could see the consequences of.


  1. The Norwegian Government together with involved banks and curved lawyers worked hard to stop this scenario from happening. “For the sake of the state”, Riis lost all her inheritance to the state and to Mantrust/DnC.


  1. We have roughly estimated Riis’ loss to some + $2 billion.

*  *  *

  1. After I – as an editor of a student law review – wrote two articles about the Riis-case early in 1997, which gave the case a real boost forward, both Amelia and Einar Riis wanted my help. I accepted their offer made through a “Draft agreement” of March 10, 1998.


  1. At that time in 1997 the family were up to their ears in dept, and flat broke as a result of some 100 lost court cases, without any legal representative, and with a case that was practically dead. Everything and everybody was against them, and there were little hope to get any solution. On top of this Mr. Riis was forced to leave Monaco due to the lack of money.

*  *  *

  1. After several meetings with the ministry of Justice I managed in 1998 to negotiate free legal help for the family in several of their cases, which of course were a huge victory and a huge step forward for the family. I then helped the family searching for lawyers that could represent the family in court.


  1. On February 28, 2001, The Riis-family won a huge victory against the Government in the City Court of Oslo. The minister of Justice, Hanne Harlem (Mother earth’s (Mrs. Gro Harlem Brundtland) little sister), appealed this decision. At that time this case had been living its own life in the City Court of Oslo for some 23 years!


  1. On June 5, 2003 I managed to reach a NOK 55.1 million (some $ 9 million) settlement between the Norwegian Government and the Riis-family (which is by far the largest compensation-payment ever paid by the Norwegian Government) making the family millionaires.


  1. After this victory we went against the Government claiming the compound interest on the settled amount, estimated to some $50 million.


  1. May 30, 2006 Mr. Riis died – under suspicious circumstances – at an age of 83 year, at that time living in Monaco. He left behind some $5 million in cash and real estates (Monaco, Sweden and USA), and a claim of some + $ 2 billion against the Norwegian Government.  


Mr. Herman J Berge, Luxembourg June 27, 2007.




[1] That there was nothing to inherit after Kristoffer’s raid on here heritage.

[2] JPMorgan Chase

[3] Today the bank is named DnB NOR.

[4] Mr Riis was one of the pioneers in the commercial airline business. His firm handled airplanes all over Italy, and they were buying and selling airplanes worldwide, on top of leasing and chartering. During his fight for justice in Norway, the Norwegian government – slowly but surely – deprived him and his family of everything through an ongoing conspiracy.

[5] Who at the time was the CEO of the Olsen & Ugelstad group

[6] Null and void is a legal concept unknown in Norway

[7] There are a lot of evidences pointing out this. At this day, April 28th 1975 Ole Lund called up DnC, and informed the bank that the decision was null and void. DnC then called up Mantrust and gave the same message. It was obvious that these words “null and void” were of great importance to the banks