On February 5, 2021, the Prosecutor General of Namibia Shaky Sangala applied for the transfer of the Fishrot prosecutions to the High Court of Namibia. The multi-billion dollar Fishrot scandal involves alleged money laundering, contravention of the Namibian law titled Prevention of Organized Crime Act, corruption, conspiracy to commit corruption, fraud and tax evasion, and the evasion of justice.
Icelandic fishing company Samherji allegedly paid bribes to Namibian government officials for rights to fish for Namibian horse-mackerel. Namibia’s Financial Intelligence Centre the possible bribes added up to about $600 million dollars over the years that the bribery took place. Three Icelandic Samherji employees, Ingvar Júlíusson, Egill Helgi Árnason and Aðalsteinn Helgason are among the 26 parties charged in February. They will appear appear before the Windhoek High Court in Namibia on April 22, 2021.
News of the alleged bribes broke when former official at Samherji Johannes Stefannson leaked 30,000 documents to WikiLeaks after leaving the company. Stefannson was head of Samherji’s operations in Namibia from 2006 to 2011. After the documents began appearing on WikiLeaks, the company accused Stefannson of operating alone to carry out the bribe and money laundering schemes. Stefannson acknowledges having taken a part but denies the company’s characterization of his role. The bribes continued after his departure.
The scandal involved many high level officials in government. Prominent cabinet members accused of corruption include Bernhard Esau and Sacky Shanghala. The former served as minister of fisheries and marine resources at the time of the bribes. An affidavit provided in April 2020 to the Namibian Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) by attorney Marén de Klerk suggests that even the Namibian President Hage Geingob may have played a role in the bribery scheme. The affidavit was leaked to the public and has fueled a debate about the extent of the president’s knowledge.
The trial of Former Fishcor chairman James Hatuikulipi. accused of an instrumental role in the bribery and corruption scandal, is currently scheduled for May 2021.
Reform to Come
Looking forward, Namibia must reform the system that it uses to award fishing rights. Following the Fishrot scandal, the country attempted to implement an auction-system for bidding rights. Unfortunately, many of the companies that won bids did not follow through on the payments that they promised in exchange for the rights. Namibia’s finance minister Ipumbu Shiimi commented that the government will make important changes following this unsuccessful auction.
He said, “We have learned good lessons from this auction and that will be valuable going forward. In the future, punitive measures will be introduced, including requirements for payment guarantees or bid securities before participation in the auction. This will ensure that bidders meet their financial commitments and will mitigate the risk of speculative bids. In addition, more time will be given to bidders to arrange their finances.”
It may be an uphill battle to purge the fishing industry of its current corruption issues and resolve these latest bidding issues.
The fishrot case illustrates the issues in public procurement and fishing rights facing developing countries.