Samherji CEO steps aside amid pending corruption investigations

Published on
November 14, 2019

Thorsteinn Már Baldvinsson, the CEO of Icelandic fishing and processing company Samherji, has stepped aside and has been replaced with an acting CEO while an internal investigation is launched into alleged wrongdoing at its Namibian subsidiaries.

The temporary move, which was agreed to by Baldvinsson and Samherji’s board of directors, was announced in a statement released by Samherji on 14 November, 2019.

This followed a previous statement, issued two days earlier, in which Samherji responded to coverage about its operations in Namibia broadcasted by the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service (RUV).

“We were very disappointed to learn that Jóhannes Stefánsson, a former managing director of Samherji's operations in Namibia, appears to have been involved in questionable business practices and possibly entangled Samherji in activities that may be illegal,” Baldvinsson said in the statement.

Stefánsson was fired from his position in Namibia in 2016 because of mismanagement and unacceptable behavior, and that he has now admitted to engaging in illegal activities while managing Samherji's subsidiaries in Namibia, Baldvinsson added.

"We are deeply shocked that Johannes Stefánsson not only admits being involved in illegal activities, he is now also making allegations against colleagues. This is not how we do business. This is not Samherji,” Baldvinsson said.

On 12 November, WikiLeaks published more than 30,000 documents obtained from Stefánsson, which the website claims “expose corrupt schemes by the company in Namibia to gain access to rich fishing grounds off the African country’s shores.”

WikiLeaks said the documents, called the “Fishrot Files – Part 1,” dated from 2010 to 2016, show how the company spent millions of dollars in pay-offs to senior Namibian officials and politicians in order to ensure growing and continued access to the country's resources. They also claim to illustrate how the company failed to build promised infrastructure and create jobs in the country, and allege that the company used its international corporate structure to transfer proceeds from the operations straight out of the country.

Meanwhile, Samherji’s latest statement confirmed that Björgólfur Jóhannsson has been appointed as the acting CEO of Samherji, effective immediately. Jóhannsson has been the CEO and president of Icelandair Group, chair of Fisheries Iceland (SFF), chair of The Icelandic Employers Association (SA) and CEO of seafood company Icelandic Group.

He is to focus on meeting the employees and key stakeholders in the coming days, Samherji’s board chair Eirikur S. Jóhannsson said in a statement.

“Samherji employs thousands of people globally. We take this serious step to ensure and demonstrate the complete integrity of the ongoing investigation. At Samherji we are committed to fair and honest business, and we will always strive to act in accordance with applicable laws and regulations” Jóhannsson said.

According to the statement, Samherji has not been approached by any authorities so far, but the company will cooperate with any relevant authorities that take interest in its activities in Iceland, in Namibia, or elsewhere.

“Samherji plays an important role in the fishing industry worldwide and we have a responsibility towards our people and customers. I am deeply saddened by the circumstances, but I will do my best to safeguard the interest of Samherji and its employees,” Björgólfur Jóhannsson said. 

The internal investigation is being assisted by the Norwegian and international law firm Wikborg Rein. Samherji has said that until this had been concluded, it will not comment on specific allegations and the company has no further comments at this stage.

Image courtesy of Samherji

Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

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