Bribes in Exchange for Fishing Quotas

Screenshot from the news program Kveikur, broadcast last night on ...

Screenshot from the news program Kveikur, broadcast last night on RÚV, showing Samherji CEO Þorsteinn Már Baldvinsson. Screenshot

Vala Hafstað

Companies owned by Samherji, one of the leading companies in the Icelandic fishing industry, are reported to have paid hundreds of millions of Icelandic krónur in bribes to individuals connected to Bernhard Esau, the Namibian minister of fisheries, to obtain access to the country’s fishing quotas, according to mbl.is.

This was revealed in last night’s broadcasting of the investigative news program, Kveikur, of the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service (RÚV). The newspaper Stundin covers the issue today. Documents published by WikiLeaks last night show payments exceeding ISK 1 billion to individuals who make decisions on behalf of Namibian authorities on issues related to fisheries.

Bernhard Esau, the Namibian minister of fisheries.

Bernhard Esau, the Namibian minister of fisheries. Screenshot from Kveikur.

According to the two news media, Samherji has profited substantially on the Namibian operation and taken advantage of a notorious tax haven to transfer profits out of the country.

Stundin reports that among those who have accepted payments from Samherji is James Hatuikulipi, board chairman of the state-run company Fishcor, which distributes quotas to fishing companies in Namibia.

Hatuikulipi’s relative, who also is the son-in-law of the minister of fisheries, Tamson “Fitty” Hatuikulipi is reported to have received payments as well. The third man is Namibia’s current minister of justice, Sacky Shangala. He was the co-owner of a company which received payments from Samherji. The fourth individual to have received payments is Mike Nghipunya, CEO of Fishcor.

ACC, the Anti-Corruption Commission of Namibia, is investigating the matter, as is the economic crime department of the Namibian police.

Aspects of the case are being examined in other countries, among them by Økokrim, the National Authority for Investigation and Prosecution of Economic and Environmental Crime in Norway, due to suspicions of money laundering within Samherji’s companies, and by the office Iceland’s district prosecutor.

The whistleblower Jóhannes Stefánsson.

The whistleblower Jóhannes Stefánsson. Screenshot from Kveikur

The whistleblower, Jóhannes Stefánsson, worked as managing director of operations for Samherji in Namibia from 2012 to 2016. He states that bribes were paid, recorded by Samherji as “consulting fees.”

“This is simply criminal activity. This is organized crime,” Jóhannes told Kveikur on the program last night. “They are profiting from the country’s resources and taking all the money out of the country to invest elsewhere, that is, in Europe or in the United States.

Jóhannes furthermore admitted having broken the law on behalf of Samherji.

Alvin Mosioma, executive director of Tax Justice Network Africa, a Pan-African organization which promotes socially just, accountable and progressive taxation systems in Africa, finds the company’s arrogance shocking. He told Kveikur that the attitude of Samherji’s leaders toward the Namibian people is racist and reminiscent of colonial leaders.

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