Norway's 'lazy gang' expand into UK

Wimbledon FC could just be the start for the flamboyant pair behind Aker Maritime
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The Independent Online
The Two unusually flamboyant Norwegians poised to buy into Wimbledon football club are planning to expand their business interests in Britain.

Although a love of football appears to be the principal reason for the interest Kjell Inge Rokke and Bjorn Rune Gjelsten are showing in Wimbledon, the financial community in Oslo says they will also be looking for commercial opportunities. Some even speculate that the are thinking about an eventual stock market listing.

But Mr Rokke, Norway's richest man, and his former school friend Mr Gjelsten already aim to increase their UK presence through Aker Maritime, an offshore engineering and construction group.

Aker RGI, where Mr Rokke and Mr Gjelsten are chairman and chief executive respectively, holds a 75 per cent stake in the Oslo-listed Aker Maritime, which controls the Aker McNulty yard in the UK.

Mr Rokke, who has been based in Seattle in the US for the last couple of years, has been spending an increasing amount of time in London where he owns a flat.

The Norwegians are believed to be interested in paying pounds 26m for an 80 per cent stake in Wimbledon. More cash is on the cards for a new stadium for the team, nicknamed the Crazy Gang, which currently has no ground of its own.

Mr Rokke and Mr Gjelsten recently put up pounds 20m to build a stadium for Norwegian title holders Molde, the entrepreneurs' home town. The businessmen hold a 50 per cent stake in the football club, which has produced stars such as Ole Gunnar Solksjaer, now with Manchester United.

By Norwegian standards, the wealth and style of Mr Rokke and Mr Gjelsten is unusual. The social democracy expects money to be kept discreetly in the hands of traditional dynasties, such as the Fred Olsen shipping family.

Mr Rokke and Mr Gjelsten are self-made men who have no fear of flaunting their new-found riches. They are keen power-boat racers and fly around the world in their own Lear jet. Mr Rokke recently applied to build a house on an island in the middle of the beautiful Oslo Fjord. He withdrew the plan after a public uproar.

The two men came from humble beginnings. Mr Rokke left school early and ran away to sea to work on fishing boats. He later borrowed and saved his way towards buying his own trawler and went on to build one of the biggest fishing fleets in the world.

The boats are based in Seattle and are controlled by Norwegian Seafoods, another Oslo- listed company in which Mr Rokke has an interest. He was helped in building up his empire by Mr Gjelsten, who had left Molde to study finance at the University of Colorado. In 1982, the two founded the Rokke Group, later renamed Resources International Group.

But life is not all successes for the two. This week the top-of-the- league Molde football team was beaten 1-0 in the equivalent of the FA Cup by second division Stryn. Newspapers were quick to label Molde "the lazy gang".

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