Fishing is a notoriously tough industry, and it only has room for a limited number at the top.
Of those who have made it from the boat to the boardroom, Magnus Roth is certainly one of the most intriguing characters.
The businessman entered the industry in the early 1980s and learnt his trade unloading sardines and mackerel on the Nigerian coast.
By 1989, Roth had taken charge of the then hugely successful Wittes, a Norwegian fishing business, and by 1997, he had started Ocean Trawlers in partnership with the Russian businessman Vitaly Orlov.
Using Orlov’s expertise in the Russian fishing industry, the pair founded Norebo in 2007, which is now worth $1.5bn and supplies fish to household names like McDonalds and Birdseye.
Unfortunately, there was a storm on the horizon. In 2018, a Russian convict, Alexander Tugushev, brought a case against Roth and Orlov at London’s High Court, claiming that he was entitled to a third of the company, a stake worth $350m.
Orlov and Roth’s legal representatives initially both rejected this claim, arguing that Tugushev was never a shareholder in Norebo and had no legal right to a share in the business; Tugushev was in prison for taking a bribe, during the founding of Norebo.
However, this May, Roth announced that he had reached a financial settlement with Tugushev, despite having refuted his allegations for three years, putting the impetus on his former friend Orlov to defend the claim alone.
Interestingly, this is not the first time that Roth’s involvement in a business venture has come to an abrupt end.
In November 2016, Roth joined Songa Bulk, a Norwegian shipping company, as a director and board member. By buying when the market was at its lowest ebb, Songa Bulk succeeded in building up an impressive fleet of vessels.
Roth initially owned two million shares in Songa, with an estimated value of $1m, second only to the three million shares owned Arne Blystad, Songa’s Chairman and a fellow fishing magnate.
In a further twist, reports are now circulating that Songa will be acquired by MPC Container Ships in July of this year.
Despite there being no comment in the media from either Roth or Arne Blystad, the dissolution of Roth’s shares came immediately after a spate of investigations into his tax affairs by the Norwegian authorities.
The British investigative journalist David Leppard, who has written for The Sun and the Times, reported in 2019 that to avoid prosecution, Roth had moved his residency from Norway to the low-tax town of Lugano, Switzerland.
Aftenposten, Norway’s largest printed newspaper, confirmed that Roth had already admitted to evading value added tax (VAT) on a number of horses which he had imported into Norway in 2002. According to Aftenposten, Roth accepted a fine of several hundred thousand Norwegian Krone.
Picking up the thread, David Leppard travelled to Lugano in 2019 and requested an interview with Roth to clarify his current legal standing.
Leppard received no response and presented his findings in a statement to Russia’s Arctic TV:
‘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’.
According to Leppard, Roth then moved from Hong Kong to Switzerland in 2014, buying one of the most expensive houses in the Lugano area.
Yet despite his lengthy stint as an ex-patriate, Leppard reported that Roth, as of 2019, was still under investigation in Norway over his tax affairs.
Norwegian law states that an individual must pay the full tax on their capital and income if they spend 217 days or more in the country per year.
Although it is not known if Roth met this threshold, the Norwegian authorities are clearly unconvinced about the legality of his finances.
From the beaches of Nigeria to the shores of Lake Lugano, Magnus Roth’s story is undoubtedly a fascinating one.
Yet the past two decades have been somewhat scandalous and with investigations afoot, it is not clear if the next few years will be all plain sailing.