Arla, the Scandinavian dairy conglomerate, paid a “significant amount” of money to Gulf state imams in 2006 in exchange for a fatwa declaring Arla’s products halal.
The deal was struck in the aftermath of violent protests that followed Jyllands-Posten’s publication of cartoons depicting Muhammad. Ahmed Akkari, a Danish Muslim who originally helped inflame the “Cartoon Crisis,” makes these allegations in his new book, Min afsked fra Islamism (My departure from Islamism).
The Danish website Metroxpress explained the deal recounted in the book, in which Arla “would donate a substantial sum for a purpose of the [Islamic] scholars’ choice. In return, they would [issue] a statement saying that it is now again religiously acceptable to buy the Danish, Swedish and Norwegian dairy products.”
In other words, the scholars would bless off on Arla products in Bahrain and the UAE and help simmer down the anti-Danish sentiments that they themselves had whipped up about the cartoons in exchange for what was likely millions of Danish crowns to be spent as the imams saw fit.
The 2006 agreement may have been a violation of Denmark’s anti-corruption and anti-bribery laws. Section 299 of the Danish Criminal Code prohibits bribes among private entities in exchange for a “return commission” (ie, kickback). In this case, the return commission for the money paid to the imams was the profits earned from sales stemming from their endorsement of Arla’s products, thus giving Arla an unfair advantage in the Middle East over its competitors who did not arrange similar off-the-books payments there.
For its part, the Arla conglomerate has been arrogant and dismissive about the seriousness of the new allegations, saying that “We have decided to put the matter behind us,” and that Arla will not comment further events from eight years ago.
The cavalier attitude expressed by Arla may be indicative of the broader Danish attitude toward corporate bribery overseas. Denmark, which by most measures has very little corruption, was admonished last year by the OECD for its failure to do more to investigate allegations of foreign bribery. Danish companies were previously revealed to have paid bribes to Saddam Hussein regime officials as part of the scandal plagued UN oil-for-food program.
The 2006 agreement could also be viewed as simple extortion by the Islamic scholars. There would be a precedent for that as well: shakedowns for halal certification against Denmark by Saudi Arabia’s Muslim World League were revealed last year. The Gulf monarchies and their elites seem to have realized that Danish companies are rather pliant to their demands.