The Petroleum Geo-Services (PGS) Ambush Meeting and the Definition of Fraud

The Petroleum Geo-Services (PGS) Ambush Meeting and the Definition of Fraud

My Response to the PGS Compliance Hotline Report: Not Acceptable

If you recognise this scenario, what’s about to come is far worse than any of the treatment you’ve been experiencing for X amount of months. It’s known as the Ambush Meeting…and it’s used by every single workplace bully on the planet.

The workplace bully ‘Ambush’ meeting

While unlike a court, an employer does not have the power to compel testimony, however, an employer can impose serious consequences on an employee who fails to perform employment duties.

Jim Patterson and Kirsten Thoreson, Consequences of Employee Silence in Fraud Investigations

After several months of blowing the whistle and trying to engage some ethical and compliance guided Petroleum Geo-Services (PGS) board and executive members, I was accidentally directed to the PGS Compliance Hotline. Apparently, PGS does not recognize nor address alarms about senior executive malfeasance, corruption, and fraud from printed articles or LinkedIn™ (LI) PGS space comments written to get a response or some engagement. Nor does PGS respond to telephone calls or return messages to address the serious allegations. PGS seems to rely mostly on threatening the managers of the platform, such as LI, that facilitates the publication and distribution of information to silence whistle blowers. As suspected, it can be stated with certainty that PGS requires a compliance and risk management overhaul. The best way to describe my experience with the PGS compliance hotline is ridiculous and dysfunctional. Like a 4-year old caught with their hand in the cookie jar and crumbs on their lips, PGS executives declare complete propriety and innocence while suggesting that you ate the cookies. It should be noted that the contacts for the Compliance Hotline (CH) are Silke Hitschke, Compliance Officer; Rune Olav Pedersen, General Counsel; and Terje Bjølseth, SVP Global HR. Both PGS Legal and HR were directly implicated in the report/complaint submitted. I had actually tried to notify by phone Pedersen and received no reply. Attending to real compliance issues seemed an inconvenience. Bjølseth presided over my grievance hearing over workplace bullying (along with EVP, Per Arild Reksnes.)   Bjølseth also over-saw and was aware of my Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA) subject access request (SAR) submitted in October 2014.

One of issues with the CH site is that the report window does not accept certain characters and is also restricted to a 5000 character report with no attachments allowed. Simply cutting and pasting a properly punctuated prose was not really allowed. I wrote a report, but also asked CH to reference my LI posted articles 1-7, but especially the 20-Sep-2015 article where I cut and pasted excerpts from my personnel file contents and e-mails which were received from my SAR.

  1. An American, the UK Data Protection Act, Petroleum Geo-Services and the Tyranny of “Accurate Data” (03-Jul-2015)
  2. When Human Resources is Corrupt – Why it Matters in the Seismic Industry (10-Aug-2015)
  3. Petroleum Geo-Services CEO Jon Erik Reinhardsen Should Resign (06-Sep-2015)
  4. Petroleum Geo-Services CEO Jon Erik Reinhardsen Should Resign II – Evidence (20-Sep-2015)
  5. The SEG Should Expel PGS CEO Jon Erik Reinhardsen (11-Oct-2015)
  6. Workplace Bullying is an Agency Problem and Often a Crime (1-Feb-2016)
  7. Petroleum Geo-Services Markets and the Anonymous Executive (9-Feb-2016)

Petroleum Geo-Services (PGS) and the Veneer of Governance (8-May-2016), my latest post was also provided to CH. CH responded to my report with a terse statement, which mostly answered nothing.  However, at least the issues which have been shared and viewed by many stakeholders are now pointed toward the senior executives and board of both Petroleum Geo-Services ASA (Norway) and PGS Exploration (UK) Ltd.  This is where the responsibility for resolution now rests and I hope that they understand this even though CH does not.  Shareholders should be proud to know that this is the quality and depth of compliance investigation and reporting they are receiving for the hundreds-of-thousands of dollars paid to the CH contacts each year. 

While the case may be closed from the CH perspective, it is not closed from my perspective. The truth and facts have not changed. The entire process was fraudulent, in my view. The contents of my personnel file generated while employed with the Marine Contract – Africa business unit are composed almost completely of false instruments that have no proof of delivery and receipt or signature. There is no proof provided that the words are credible or accepted as accurate. Accurate data is a condition of compliance to DPA. Unfortunately, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) does not always investigate such discrepancies. The same is true of Action Fraud (UK) where the majority of reported fraud cases are not investigated. No investigation does not mean there wasn’t any fraud. PGS has once again dodged a bullet. But, the gun still has ammunition and the range of targets is bigger now. And the new negligent report simply adds ammunition. However, the tragic reality these days is that corporate fraudsters continue to game for their benefit.  Corporate fraudsters are able to misuse their legal agency power and shareholder value because of ineffective corporate governance and compliance oversight. Without evidence it is assumed white-collar wrong-doers are not compelled by the same base incentives as street criminals. The added power and money at their disposal makes them more honest?

The authentication of held data records were requested again from CH, and of course could not be provided.  Without investigating and providing the source of the contents in the personnel file, along with peripheral communications, the words from the CH investigation are meaningless and only become a continuation of the fraud which began three years ago. A receipt is a written acknowledgement of fact or an act of acceptance for something delivered from another as prima facie evidence. I have received the reply from CH, but it has not been accepted. PGS edict management seems to overlook the acceptance process, both in this report or any other Nicholson et al. manufactured document. The process is closed or concluded without validation of accuracy. No quality, safety, or environmental workplace audit worth its salt would accept this laconic and unsubstantiated report as conclusive of anything beyond cover your ass compliance. It would not and should not be acceptable to any rational or ethical person. CH do not provide investigation procedures or any facts to support their conclusion. However, all of the allegations through the LI articles would have had no birth if the contents within the personnel file were verifiably true. Why would PGS allow it? Without verification such Nicholson et al. prose are only creative writing and a PGS HR fairy tale. The conclusion about PGS is that their compliance program can be taken less seriously than a 4-year and her cookies, because she doesn’t claim a compliance program as a guide.  What should concern customers, employees and shareholder is that weak governance points to weak operational and financial processes as well. 


But, let’s step back from the serious allegations of fraud and simply discuss compliance as adherence to the PGS Code of Conduct. In the ethical playground that is PGS, compliance officers aligned with workplace bullies find nothing noteworthy or non-compliant with the e-mail thread following an ambush meeting and other questionable documents. Nor does CH find the numerable factual discrepancies between the data subject and data controller’s narratives. This speaks to a lack of thoroughness and fairness in the investigation and conclusions, and of course again establishes the need to verify the integrity of the disputed data under discussion. Unfortunately, this is what a serious compliance program is

CH has not explained how this e-mail exchange is compliant, professional, or not fraudulent. There was a meeting where several issues were in disagreement. Minutes of the meeting (MOM) were requested, but none provided because they did not exist. That is what is shared. But, in the other thread, there is a conspiracy to withhold information and provide the MOM to the conspirators. What does the “official” route mean and why the quotation marks? Is “official” PGS executive code for conspiracy to defraud? How does this comply with the Code of Conduct: utilize good judgment and honesty in all of our business dealings, encourage others to aspire to high ethical standards, or encourage transparency and share accurate and timely information? This exchange seems to comply more with all the trifecta conditions for fraud. We have dishonesty, failing to disclose information, and abuse of position, don’t we (CH)?

Fraud Act 2006 (England)

A person is guilty of fraud if s/he is in breach of any of the sections listed

1.    Fraud by false representation

  • made a false representation 
    • dishonestly 
    • knowing that the representation was or might be untrue or misleading 
    • with intent to make a gain for himself or another, to cause loss to another or to expose another to risk of loss.
    • The offence is entirely focused on the conduct of the defendant.

2.    Fraud by failing to disclose information

  • failed to disclose information to another person 
  • when he was under a legal duty to disclose that information 
  • dishonestly intending, by that failure, to make a gain or cause a loss.

3.    Fraud by abuse of position

  • occupies a position in which he was expected to safeguard, or not to act against, the financial interests of another person 
  • abused that position 
  • dishonestly 
  • intending by that abuse to make a gain/cause a loss

The abuse may consist of an omission rather than an act.

Source: The Crown Prosecution Service

Eventually, I did file a grievance. However, I never received the MOM from the ambush meeting. In fact, I received nothing in writing from my boss Von Abendorff, or Nicholson, or Cather – the other meeting attendees.  Nothing was received in writing which could be responded to or acted upon until 24-Jul-13, forty-one days after the ambush meeting. Nicholson et al. wrote a letter titled, Possible Implementation of a Performance Improvement Plan (ambush letter). Nicholson et al. unscrupulously introduced the performance ruse into their narrative even though the letter was a replacement, of sorts, from the unofficial (ambush) meeting which I was intentionally prohibited from receiving and addressing in a timely manner. Nicholson never did answer how the meeting complied with PGS policy and procedures, similar to the recent CH response. PGS compliance does not bind themselves to such trivialities as stating exactly what the purpose, policy and procedures that precipitated the meeting are. The subsequent ambush letter scheduled a meeting for 11-Sep-2013. But, this date was changed to 20-Sep-2013. There was no meeting that I attended on 11-Sep-2013.

My response was in the form of a grievance. As I saw it, a false narrative about my professionalism was being promulgated both orally and in writing by the abuse of PGS authoritative power of position with no basis in fact. I wanted PGS to defend their statements. I wanted substantive discussion. Up to this point, this had never happened, and of course PGS cannot and has not produced any real and substantive evidence to suggest otherwise. PGS/CH never wanted to defend their statements made by their managers. How professional and compliant is that? There was extensive effort to avoid and derail the grievance process and engage me without preparation. PGS was going to reschedule and postpone the meeting once again, but I refused. I was going to mail my response on 20-Sep-13. I did not want my voice and the truth to be suppressed through Nicholson et al. manipulation any longer. The delivery meeting was with myself, Nicholson, Von Abendorff, and witness John Barnard.  The delivery meeting was short because my grievance was long. These individuals were e-mailed copies of my response to the ambush letter along with Cather, EVP Per Arild Reksnes, and SVP John Greenway.    

Excerpts from grievance:

To repeat, a main motivation for my response in the form of a grievance is that one should never allow a defamatory statement to go unchallenged. Silence is perceived as acceptance. If one does not respond about what has been said or written about them – especially on a professional level – then it must be true.   It had always been a DPA issue, I just never knew it.  And again, failure to provide my held data once requested was a violation of DPA while employed.  The grievance was quite lengthy focusing on the actors in the ambush meeting: Nicholson, Von Abendorff, and Cather. I wanted to touch all the points as thoroughly as possible. 

I was a foreign worker (US) staying by the explicit request to UK Border Agency by PGS, whose agents had compiled documents for a Tier 2 visa that stated my services were required by PGS (UK). These application documents were filed following the ambush meeting. It would be illegal to employ me if in fact my services were not required and would displace a resident worker. Why would PGS require a foreign poor performer? Also, a lot of staff energy, contracted visa services, and of course the fees for the visas for me and my family were expensed by PGS. I felt that PGS had undue influence on my work environment which elevated my claim of workplace bullying to harassment, where nationality is a protected class. This would make the workplace bullying harassment.  Harassment is illegal.  What I really believed was that if I had encountered this workplace behavior in the US, I would have had much more personal power to change the bad situation.  Further, HR managers of a global company should know that there is no question that an overseas assignment causes stress for the employee and their family, and that a fair amount of it is distress. The high percentage of expatriate employees who return without completing the assignment (some estimate up to 50%) can be attributed to the stress that comes with moving to a new job in a new culture.   

It was a good thing for me that the grievance document was so thorough, because it was an attempt to clearly voice my many oppositions to the unsubstantiated statements made during the ambush meeting and ambush letter. There were many serious points that needed to be thoroughly investigated and answered. A grievance hearing was scheduled to be presided over by the ambush meeting actor’s superiors Reksnes and Bjølseth. A day before the hearing Nicholson called me to his office and offered me a settlement agreement contract. Nicholson stated that PGS regarded the grievance as a dispute with the company. I rejected the offer.  After all, Nicholson was directly implicated in the grievance.  The grievance was voiced at the scheduled time to Reksnes and Bjølseth by video conference between Weybridge, England and Lysaker, Norway. There was no comment by anyone following the meeting regarding any of the specific issues brought-up within the grievance or the hearing where mostly the same facts were presented orally.  No minutes were provided. 

Following the hearing I expected some contact from the chairs.  Nothing.  During this waiting period I contacted a solicitor of some repute who had written articles about workplace bullying and workplace issues to review my situation. The solicitor opined that PGS would likely prefer a settlement rather than proceeding with their internal grievance process. This was a face-saving measure for a company.  With no response from Reksnes and Bjølseth, I engaged the solicitor. The solicitor was provided with my grievance and should have been able to note any discrepancies between the two narratives as easily as I did.  The grievance process was parked – not concluded.  I had never received any report from Reksnes and Bjølseth.  Engaging a solicitor is a requirement if one pursues a settlement agreement contract. My solicitor drove the process as he had the knowledge and experience in these areas.  I had no basis to measure his performance and picked by notoriety. I had only once before in my life engaged a lawyer to review the process for the sale of a business which I owned.  Of course, with no sponsor in England I would need to return to the US (Houston), far away from the scope of UK and Norwegian laws and PGS compliance.

PGS management regarded me as a pariah at this point. There was no atonement and I remained in the same work environment where I continued to be kept busy. The season and work environment were taking a toll on my health, as any normal person would expect. I took a week – five days – of sick leave during the negotiations. I did not have any prior history of abusing my earned leave. When I returned to work, Nicholson and Von Abendorff requested that I see the contracted occupational health nurse to validate my condition.  It was validated and she was made aware of the situation and also noted some elevated health-stress indicators.  She had sent me a draft summary of her findings, but no final report.  I did not especially relish the idea of remaining in a hostile work environment and endangering my and my family’s health any longer than possible. There was some pressure to complete the negotiations quickly. I did not like the settlement process under these circumstances since it suppresses the truth and relinquishes all responsibility by wrong-doers. I did not relish staying in a foreign country and remaining in my sponsored hostile work environment while I engage in a court battle. I was in England for my job and not for the weather. PGS management wanted to finalize the settlement negotiations at this point. I wanted to leave England, as well. However, I also had to think of my daughter’s school as well as an overseas move back to the US.  I had not lived or worked in the US since 2001.  I had been working globally for PGS.  My workload continued unabated. PGS put me on garden leave to get me out of sight of co-workers until my departure from England Christmas Eve, 2013.

I arrived in Houston without a job or a recent work history that I could easily refer to.  While clear evidence is hard to present, I felt near positive that PGS was interfering with my job search efforts.  I could tell by the questions that interviewers asked which referenced facts or events not shared in my CV/résumé and cover letter.  I had not started to publish or post on LI at that point either. As I studied my situation I became more familiar with the DPA. (The DPA had been referenced in documents and contracts which I had read, but I did not understand it well in the context of a former employee.) In Oct-2014, I submitted an SAR to PGS Exploration (UK) Limited. I also submitted an SAR to Petroleum Geo-Services ASA. My e-mail correspondence was with Nicholson and HR Officer, Laura Haswell for DPA and Bjølseth for the Norwegian equivalent to DPA. Bjølseth stated all records were held by PGS Exploration (UK) Limited.

Unfortunately, I was dealing with the same individuals who were implicated in my grievance. I had so little trust of Nicholson that most communications were directed to Haswell. However, when I finally did receive my personal data, I learned that Haswell had been very involved during my settlement process, as well. My grievance was principally an issue of unsubstantiated and false claims about my professionalism. So, when I saw that only these unsubstantiated and false claims about me were retained in my personnel file, and all responses to these were removed, I was alarmed and furious. The fact is that DPA requires that the data be fair and accurate.  Settlements do not grant rights to change the truth to fit a depraved and criminal process of defamation.  However, DPA does not have a standard to establish record veracity, such as signature or proof of delivery and receipt. DPA needs to talk to ISO – the group who knows standards – because this lax verification process makes it far too easy for inaccurate and unfair data to be retained about individuals.  However, beyond this the personnel file omitted records and held additional false documents. PGS refused to remove or change any information, even obviously false information, but agreed to append my personnel file with an e-mail in which I detailed some of the factual discrepancies.  Corporate coffers controlled by corrupt agents make legal remedies difficult and expensive.  This is the problem whistle blowers are always faced with.  PGS destroyed and omitted my grievance document which contained my response – the accurate data. I was and am astonished that this was even legally allowed. PGS did not want me asking too many questions and on 22-Dec-2013 Nicholson sent me an e-mail as well as a subsequent letter sent through the post threatening litigation if I did not cease asking ICO questions.

Communications with PGS whole SAR was being processed:

Letter from PGS Nicholson to request that I do not question what was provided:

On the one hand, I couldn’t give a hoot what any of these liars and cheaters think about me.   What bothers me most is the corrupted process of conspiracy and fraud that was specifically carried out to harm me personally, professionally, and financially. It was an illegal act of vindictiveness allowed by unethical and insecure senior executives who do not understand that workplace bullying is destructive to organization sustainability. It is bad for business. Period. But, these bullies, fraudsters and cowards can only feel comfortable with their incompetence when they work to destroy those who are loyal, honest, and competent. I already know that PGS compliance is a farce, because CH refuses to address and answer the simple question – simple for an ethical organization. Can CH authenticate the instruments held in my PGS personnel file and personal subject data are accurate?

According to the 22-Dec-2013 letter, Von Abendorff, who was my supervisor during my assignment in Weybridge, has not even viewed the contents of my personnel file since my departure. I did not work for HR and did not work directly under Cather.  The post ambush meeting mail thread showed that Nicholson, Von Abendorff, and Cather have all conspired and lied to withhold information from me. Many LI viewers have seen this thread as well. Why does CH trust Cather, Nicholson, or Von Abendorff? Why should PGS stakeholders and employees especially trust CH? I still contend that a conspiracy of PGS agents engaged in fraud created and held false instruments intended to harm me.  How did CH arrive to their conclusion?

I never received the MEMO from Bjølseth and Reksnes. The MEMO was dated 25-Oct-2013, which according to my records is the day that the solicitor which I engaged first contacted PGS lawyers. This was the day the grievance was “parked” and not concluded. What relevant meeting was held on 11-Sep-2013, as Nicholson postponed an originally scheduled meeting due to participants schedule conflicts? I have no recollection of a letter 29-Sep-2013 letter delivered to Bjølseth and Reksnes. This 29-Sep-2013 letter was never received as part of my SAR content either.

Why does PGS refuse to change or append the meeting time of 11-Sep-2013 when the date was changed to 20-Sep-2013 when it is a requirement of DPA compliance that data be accurate? My response to the 20-Sep-2013 meeting was my grievance document. Since my grievance document contradicts many points in the PGS letter, why has the grievance document been destroyed? PGS has not established with certainty, and continues to refuse to do so, the accuracy of documents held about me. This is in violation of DPA.

Further to this, why was the letter regarding the outcome of the Nicholson and Von Abendorff occupational health nurse examination never sent to me?  It recommended a follow-up examination two-weeks later.  This letter is not held in my personnel file and was not received as part of my SAR contents either, even though it was specifically requested.  This letter may have very well impacted my settlement agreement negotiations which Haswell oversaw.  These individuals were willing to jeopardize my health and the well-being of my family to escape responsibility and protect harassers.  I received this letter through a separate SAR.

Why is an unsigned and unofficial record which was the basis for the entire grievance process held in my personnel file?  The record in my personnel file is titled and has a date and time.  It is known by the post ambush meeting e-mail thread that all three actors in that meeting, Nicholson, Von Abendorff, and Cather are liars (fraudsters).  My grievance mentions many of these factual differences as well.  This is another false instrument constructed to harm me.  Of course, it was never signed or vetted by me. 

Why would PGS file this request with the UK Border Agency if management had concerns about the applicant’s performance?  This official request to UK Border represents that the applicant has some special capabilities that resident applicants do not have.  Misrepresenting a visa applicant’s qualifications is against the law isn’t it?

How can stakeholders even reasonably assume that PGS management and CH takes corporate governance and compliance seriously when CH does not respond responsibly, and thoroughly, to legitimate stakeholder concerns? The grievance and settlement process was vetted by Head of Legal (UK), Carl Richards and his associate Ben Kelly.  However, they likely received guidance from Norway lawyers (Pedersen).    

CH does not take their responsibility to make certain that PGS decision-makers abide by the laws or business ethics seriously. Well governed and compliant organizations should be able to promptly and confidently refute, with evidence, allegations of non-compliance and illegality to stakeholders and the public. A dysfunctional compliance program is one that cannot do this, in the view of most people who understand and practice corporate compliance. CH may have accepted my report finally, but the CH investigation was not thorough or backed by any evidence whatsoever. CH refused to address the fundamental request made. Can CH authenticate the official documents held in my personnel file? If CH cannot provide receipts of delivery along with statements of acceptance, they are holding illegitimate documents. Further, the actions of workplace bullying and harassment which were brought to the attention of senior management were similarly uninvestigated. No investigation is needed when you simply write-down an “outcome” from a non-existent investigation.

Had PGS management actually delivered the MEMO it should have been signed. If unsigned and unverified documents populate PGS records, this is a huge compliance and other risks to PGS. Is this compliant behavior, really? None of the issues in my grievance were even entertained much less investigated. Bjølseth and Reksnes are conspirators, forgers and fraudsters until they can unequivocally prove otherwise. So, they are alleged conspirators, forgers and fraudsters who are lucky to have the umbrage of a corrupt corporate benefactor who finds comradery in their malfeasance. They are rewarded.  PGS and CH are playing a high-stakes gambit that the truth will remain suppressed indefinitely. Perhaps it is hubris that allows the alleged to continue this charade. The alleged are allowed to hide from accountability under the misappropriated pile of money and power which defies their legal agency and provides their cover. But, the truth eventually catches-up with those who actually believe that they can outrun it. CH may conclude that there is no fraud, or even wrong-doing. But, what every investigator should know, scientist or other, is that a conclusion is meaningless without the presentation of data and processes to support it. The facts are gaining on the alleged and the race isn’t over.  The PGS compliance house is built on sand.   The thoroughness of an investigation should at least meet the thoroughness of the complaint and responsibly address all of the concerns based on the processes and information that led to the conclusion.  Customers and all stakeholders should be similarly concerned about silence and cover-ups.  Due diligence and indemnify.   If PGS cannot address simple compliance issues professionally, how can they manage complex projects?   

The more powerful you make your boss in your world, the weaker you make yourself.

Liz Ryan, “Seven Sneaky Ways Weak Managers Keep Employees In-Line”

It isn’t the original scandal that gets people in the most trouble – it’s the attempted cover-up.

Tom Petri