A total of 39 privately owned property tracts have been sold in Svalbard. In all cases, Norway acquired the properties. It should also happen with the 40th, said Gov. Odd Olsen Ingerø.
"I think it's entirely natural and right that the state makes it possible to take over the property," Ingerø said. "I think this is entirely in line with what would be right to ensure that we can utilize the area in an expedient way."
The Austre Adventfjord case is creating headaches for the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries, which states it is assessing the legal framework for the possible sale of the property.
"The assessment is complex and extensive, and will therefore have to take some time," wrote Christine Spersrud Haug, a spokeswoman for the ministry. "Concerned ministries are involved in this work. We can not comment on the other questions now."
Ingerø, as the highest authority in Svalbard, is nevertheless certain that the property should be in Norway's hands.
Has he communicated this to the ministry?
"This has always been my mentality and I have also stated that on occasion in this matter," he said.
Ingerø also emphasized that if there is a buyer other than the state, it is Norwegian territory and Norwegian rules apply.
In late April, Verdens Gang reported owner Henning Horn is selling the property. Last weekend, Nordlys quoted a website which in turn quoted the South China Morning Post that a Chinese businessman has offered $111 million dollars.
The businessman is property tycoon Nubo Huang, who reportedly is willing to pay the equivalent of about 650 million kroner for the property, which includes a large mountainous area near Longyearbyen (see map).
The law firm Hjort, which is representing Austre Adventfjord AS, apparently was unaware of the reports when contacted by Svalbardposten on Monday. Attorneys at the firm are declining to comment on the alleged offer or other aspects of the case.
A document from Nov. 1, 1938, lays down prohibitions regarding the sale, mortgage or leasing of Austre Adventfjord's properties or rights to a non-Norwegian entity without the ministry 's consent. This is the central question regarding the sale of the property.
Arguing for rights
The background for the sale, according to the owner, is a lack of response from Norwegian authorities. Austre Adventfjord announced nearly a year ago it planned to start mining in Operafjellet, located within the property. It is considered by far the most promising coal deposit near Longyearbyen. The company believes, however, that Store Norske has gone behind Austre Adventfjord's back and conducted site drilling on Operafjellet, thus obstructing its mining plans.
Store Norske, for its part, is refusing to surrender the mining rights. The dispute between the two companies was revealed last summer by Kapital magazine and has continued since then.
In August, Major Norwegian asserted Austre Adventfjord had conducted investigations and made two findings points on its claims without contacting Store Norske, as required by mining industry rules. The points are 170 and 270 meters within the Store Norske's claim areas Longyeardal 31 and Saksedal 28, but within the Austre Adventfjord property.
Must test in court
The Norwegian Directorate of Mining with the Commissioner of Mines at Svalbard has announced Austre Adventfjord's finding points have been deleted, and the company has responded with objections and questions about whether Store Norske's claim areas are valid, partially because it has been exempt from obligations regarding such activity. The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries approves such exemptions.
"The ministry's decision is final and questions about the validity of exemptions must be brought before the court," wrote Peter Brugmans on behalf of the mining directorate.