Norden was notified of the fraud last week, Head of Dry Cargo Christian Vinther Christensen tells ShippingWatch.
The shipping company itself had not discovered the fairly large sums the port agent was charging for its service, but the company was contacted by Ukrainian towage operator Urkfleet-Service about the situation.
Altogether, Norden says it has been defrauded for USD 85,000, and it is now trying to reclaim the money.
“They made some false invoices, and we have pretty strong evidence of that,” says Christensen.
Norden has viewed the original invoices from the towage operator and compared them to bills from the port agent, whose name ShippingWatch has opted not to make public at this time.
The documents are identical, except for one detail.
“They just list a different figure. Otherwise they’re exactly the same. It’s so deceitful. We’re pursuing this as a criminal case through our lawyer in Odessa.”
Ukrainian towage operator Urkfleet-Service discovered the fraud and last week sent out a warning to its customers. A document which ShippingWatch has viewed.
In an answer to ShippingWatch, the company rejects the accustations stating that it “categorically and openly declares that no invoices were faked or corrected.”
“We are suffering from an information attack from a company that …. nobody in the shipping market had heard about untill two weeks ago,” the company declares.
Several shipping companies involved
According to Urkfleet-Service, the company has, among other things, falsified invoices from the towage operator and increased the sum to be paid by 15 and up to 50 percent.
According to the company, the fraud has been going on for more than two years, and the impacted shipping companies come from all over the world. In 2020 alone, the fraud totals several hundred thousand dollars, says the company.
“Taking into consideration more than 400 ship calls handled per year by […], the damage can reach millions of dollars – it’s an unprecedented case in Ukrainian ports we are aware of and such actions of […] ruin the whole image of Ukraine as a European maritime country,” writes Urkfleet-Services in the document.
The company is currently working with some of the biggest shipping companies from Europe and the Far East to determine the scope of the fraud.
I think that one can expect an uncovering of various things down there, and we’d like to take part in that. It’s in our interest”
For Norden, two port calls cost more than USD 23,000 extra, while the shipping company, during the first half of this year, has been defrauded by more than USD 76,000 for 11 port calls.
Ukraine is an important area for Norden, which handles more than 50 percent of the country’s imported dry bulk volumes. The shipping company makes 12-13 port calls in the country each month. Christensen thus thinks it is Norden’s duty to take a tough stance against corruption and fraud.
“In the long term, customers end up paying when corruption is taking place. Our customers are pleased that we have an aggressive approach to it. There are many others involved. I think that one can expect an uncovering of various things down there, and we’d like to take part in that. It’s in our interest,” he says.
Norden rarely experiences cases as severe as this one, he says. And it is therefore also too soon to say whether the company will be able to get all its money back.
“We have indications that they’ve started to transfer funds from (…) to another company. But we’re quite hopeful. One thing is to get the money back. Another is that we want to set an example. You don’t do this to Norden or Ukraine. Ukraine is in the midst of a fairly big transformation, and its president has openly stated that it will fight corruption. We need to take part in that,” says Christensen.
It might seem strange that nobody at Norden reacted to the large sums paid for a port call. But the fraud was hidden in a way that was very difficult to discover, explains the head of dry cargo.
“That’s also why we’re reacting strongly to this. It’s very unheard of. We have every interest in ensuring transparency, and we have a zero-tolerance policy toward fraud and corruption.”
IN an article on ShippingWatch tomorrow the comapny accused of fraud will elaborate on its views.
English Edit: Daniel Logan Berg-Munch