UK – Norwegian industrial holding group Kvaerner ASA has become embroiled in a row over its relationship to the Kvaerner Pension Fund (KPF), the UK pension plan of the former Trafalgar House.
At issue are claims about its transfer of UK pension obligations worth about NOK14bn (€1.7bn) – which Kvaerner takes issue with.
Kvaerner said in a statement: “The structural changes in the Kvaerner group over the past year were not motivated by considerations linked to KPF.”
It said the moves – which saw the sale of various units following a failed expansion drive – were part of a gradual winding-up of the parent company.
“The circumstances surrounding KPF were not the reason for this work, but were of course considered, in the same way as Kvaerner carefully assessed in its work the considerations relating to all relevant parties in and around the company.
“In short, the relationship between KPF and relevant companies was not affected by the restructuring.”
John Starling, vice president of group pensions at the London-based fund, referred calls to chief executive Leif Salomonsen, who was not available.
According to ‘Pension Funds and their Advisors’, the £1.2bn fund has 14,000 pensioners and almost 15,000 deferreds. Lane Clark & Peacock is the investment advisor. It declined to comment, citing client confidentiality.
Oslo-listed Kværner ASA said it was never financially responsible for the fund. “It is companies owned by Kvaerner Plc which have employees in the plan, and which can be asked to contribute should KPF be unable to meet its commitments to its members.
“The sale of Kvaerner (UK) Ltd to new owners does not affect these companies’ ability to fulfil their agreements with KPF.”
The firm was responding to press reports that Kværner sold off its UK holdings for one pound on March 31.
"I am not accusing anyone of being a criminal,” former Kvaerner employee Gael Lewis was quoted as saying by Norway’s Aftenposten. “Far from it. I believe rather that they are trying to be clever businessmen, but at the cost of people like me who worked for Kværner for 25 years.”
Aftenposten said Lewis has written to the UK’s new Pensions Regulator, calling the symbolic sale an apparent "cynical and conscious trick" by Kvaerner to avoid its obligations.
It quoted Salomonsen as saying pensioners shouldn’t worry and that the fund is currently meeting its obligations.