The Nigerian coastline, which runs alongside the sometimes-tempestuous Gulf of Guinea, is a beautiful but hardly glamourous part of the world.
Yet this is where fishing magnate Magnus Roth started his career in the early 1980s, lugging mackerel and other pelagic fish from battered vessels onto sandy quaysides.
From these humble beginnings, Roth rose up through the industry, acceding to the directorships at leading fishing companies in Norway and Russia.
Now a very rich man, Roth’s success is the classic ‘boy done good’ story but this is not to say that it has all been plain sailing.
Much of the Swede’s career remains murky and the details that have emerged about his dealings reflect a character who is not quite as upstanding as he lets on.
Horses for courses
For a man who has spent his life working with fish, its odd that the first scandal of Roth’s career revolved around a different species entirely, his daughter’s prize pony.
In 1999, having been enriched by his takeover of the Norwegian fishing industry, Roth decided to purchase a horse from the former Olympic equestrian Morten Aasen.
The young stallion, Poteen, was a present for his eldest daughter and set him back an eye-watering £37,500.
When the deal was done, Poteen was boxed up and made the long journey from the UK to Norway.
However, Roth, ever the wily businessman, sensed an opportunity to make a significant saving and declared Poteen’s value as being just £5000.
This allowed him to avoid paying a large chunk of VAT on the transaction, robbing Norway’s public purse of its 25% cut.
Unfortunately for Roth, this piece of trickery didn’t work for long.
The Norwegian tax authorities got wind of the deal and their investigation found that he had indeed falsified the import papers.
Roth was consequently fined several hundred thousand Norwegian krone and the Norwegian newspaper that broke the story, Aftenposten, condemned Roth for his attempted tax evasion.
Yet perhaps the Swede deserved pity just as much as contempt.
As someone from humble beginnings on the Nigerian shores, it is likely that Roth saw horses, long considered a noble animal, as his golden ticket into Norway’s social elite.
One can picture Roth grooming Poteen’s mane at the Oslo Horse Show, flashing a hopeful smile at an onlooking aristocrat or royal.
The shadowy shareholder
Fifteen years later and Roth was no longer an outsider.
In late 2016, he became a director at the hugely successful Song Bulk, a Norwegian shipping company which invests in low-cost vessels.
Roth was the firm’s second largest shareholder and his initial stake in Songa was worth a cool $1m.
All seemed to be going well in 2019, with Roth still owning a sizeable 37% share in the business.
Yet Songa’s reports show that just a year later, Roth’s shares in the company had been diluted down to zero.
From an integral part of the firm to a non-owner board member, the shadowy shareholder had clearly fallen from grace.
Once a cheater…
The Scandinavian press were unable to explain Roth’s rapid exit from Songa, but a report by the British investigative journalist David Leppard has shed more light.
According to Leppard, to escape prosecution from the Norwegian authorities for tax evasion, Roth moved his residency from Norway to Hong Kong in 2014 and then onto Lugano, Switzerland in 2019.
After attempting to interview Roth in Lugano, Leppard made the following statement to Arctic TV, a Russian investigative news channel.
“Mr Roth, as I discovered, lived in Norway for fifteen years and then after the Norwegian tax and fishing authorities and the Norwegian media began investigating his business, he left Norway suddenly and went to live in Hong Kong.”
It seems that residing in Norway was no longer an option for Roth and it is likely that the investigations into his tax affairs meant that his part-ownership of Songa became untenable.
All alone at sea
Norway’s tax authorities are clearly deeply suspicious of Roth’s finances, and this has pushed him into a life on the road, moving from one tax haven to the next.
It’s anyone’s guess as to where the fishing magnate might end up – perhaps a return to Nigeria is on the cards if Lugano does not work out.
As is often the case, the cunning and ruthlessness that took the Swede from the beach to the boardroom has also landed him in hot water with the law.
If a £40,000 pony did not endear Roth to the crème of Norway’s social elite, then his wayward accounting is unlikely to either.