Here’s the man who is said to have bought ownership of five Sølvtrans vessels – for just $130,000

Aslak Berge and Owen Evans

Has Victor Vargas Vega done a historic deal in the wellboat market?

Sølvtrans’s operations in Chile have come under the spotlight of the country’s authorities. The core of the case is how much the Norwegian wellboat giant actually owns its subsidiary Sølvtrans Chile. Chile does not allow foreign owners to control shipping companies that operate coastal shipping in the country.

In an email to SalmonBusiness, Sølvtrans founder and CEO Roger Halsebakk confirmed that Victor Vargas Vega owns 51 per-cent of Sølvtrans Chile, the company Vargas Vega himself leads.

Halsebakk, however, refrained from answering when asked what price Vargas Vega bought majority ownership of the company for.

Doubble bookkeeping
This transaction, and what it entails, is now being investigated in Chilean courts.

“In attempt to meet Chilean requirements, Sølvtrans AS claims to have sold a controlling interest of 51 per-cent, in their Chilean subsidiary (Solvtrans Chile SA), to their manager, Victor Vargas in a deed, dated January 21, 2015. The claimed sales price for 51 per-cent of the company is about USD 130,000, and that for a company which now operates assets likely worth around 60 million USD. A sworn statement, by Victor Vargas, is furthermore provided to the Chilean ship registry to confirm the ownership of 51 per-cent by Vargas. Yet, the audited financial statements off the Norwegian parent company, Sølvtrans AS, as submitted to the Norwegian tax authorities, shows no record of this sale, and reports that Sølvtrans AS owns 99 per-cent of the Chilean subsidiary. This looks very much like double bookkeeping, and it is also hard to believe that someone would sell assets for 5 cents on the dollar,” wrote Christian Fuenzalida Tapia, director of the Chilean communications company Audentia, in an email to SalmonBusiness.

The 19-year-old wellboat “Ronia Austral” is part of Sølvtrans Chile’s fleet. Photo: Sølvtrans

Sølvtrans Chile currently owns and operates five wellboats, so this USD 60 million estimate is probably quite conservative.

Sølvtrans Chile’s CEO and alleged Chilean owner, Victor Vargas Vega, did not want to elaborate on the share price when it was done and what it cost him.

“The situation at the moment is there are legal cases that still foregoing, so I can not comment on your question because is related to the same case. Have a good day,” he wrote in a brief email to SalmonBusiness.

The law firm Selmer has been engaged by the Chilean wellboat company Naviera Orca, which is part-owned by the Norwegian wellboat owner and Rostein chief Odd Einar Sandøy, to make an “ownership assessment” of Sølvtrans Chile. Here it is stated that Sølvtrans Chile in the period 2008-2017 was 99 or 100 per-cent owned by Sølvtrans AS – in the period 2008-2017 – 99 or 100 per-cent owned by Sølvtrans AS – during the whole period.

KPMG has carried out a “second opinion” report reproduced in a 212-page document SalmonBusiness has gained access to. Here the conclusion of Selmer is confirmed.

The point of the investigation report from the law firm is an excerpt from Sølvtrans’s own annual report for 2017, in which it is stated in the notes that Sølvtrans Chile is a 99 per-cent owned subsidiary of Sølvtrans.

Roger Halsebakk has been presented with this information and has not made any comments nor objections.

A ruling in the ongoing proceedings is likely to also have an influence on another Norwegian wellboat company operating in Chile, namely Aquaship, formerly known as GripShip.

CEO Aquaship Sverre Kristian Taknes has not returned SalmonBusiness’ request for comment in this case.