US acts on Fishrot scandal by banning two Namibian ministers

Published on
June 16, 2021
The U.S. State Department announced an entrance ban on former Namibian cabinet ministers implicated in "Fishrot."

The United States has announced an entrance ban on two former Namibian cabinet ministers implicated in the Fishrot corruption scandal.

The so-called "Fishrot" scandal, in which more than USD 650 million (EUR 536 million) was flagged as suspicious proceeds, involved Namibia’s state-owned National Fishing Corporation of Namibia (Fishcor) and Icelandic fish processing firm Samherji. Samherji was alleged to have paid bribes to Namibian politicians and businessmen to gain unfair advantage and access to Namibian horse mackerel quotas.

“We are announcing today the public designation of former Namibian government officials Bernhardt Esau and Sakeus Shanghala, due to their involvement in significant corruption,” U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement.

The U.S. said both Esau, who served as Namibian Minister for Fisheries and Marine Resources, and Shanghala, a former Namibian Minister of Justice, “were involved in corrupt acts that undermined rule of law and the Namibian public’s faith in their government’s democratic institutions and public processes, including by using their political influence and official power for their personal benefit.”

The designation, Price said, “renders Esau and Sanghala ineligible for entry into the United States.” Also banned from entry into the U.S. is Esau’s wife, Swamma Esau, and son, Philippus Esau.

“This designation reaffirms the U.S. commitment to supporting anticorruption reforms that are key to Namibia’s successful future,” Price said. “The United States continues to stand with all Namibians in support of democracy and the rule of law, and against those who would undermine these principles for personal gain. The department will continue to use authorities like this to promote accountability for corrupt actors in this region and globally.”

Meanwhile, Iceland has rejected  yet again  a request by Namibia to extradite three suspects accused of involvement in the Fishrot scandal, according to The Namibian. In February 2021, prosecutors in Namibia charged 26 people, including three current Samherji employees, with racketeering, money laundering, and tax evasion. The employees – Ingvar Júlíusson, Egill Helgi Árnason, and Adalsteinn Helgason – are alleged to have bribed Namibian government officials to unfairly gain access to fishing quotas from 2011 to 2019.  The scandal, which has come to be known as Fishrot, first came to light through a release of documents from Samherji’s former managing director of operations in Namibia, Jóhannes Stefánsson, to Wikileaks.

Iceland does not have extradition treaty with Namibia, and Iceland Public Prosecution Deputy Director Helgi Magnús Gunnarsson said last week the country does not extradite its citizens.

Although Iceland’s Act No. 13 of 1984 allows for extradition of people “suspected of, indicted for, or has been sentenced for a criminal offense in a foreign state,” it also states “Icelandic citizens may not be extradited.” However, Gunnarsson said the three suspects could still be tried in Iceland, subject to Icelandic authorities establishing criminal culpability on their part.

In Namibia, other suspects in the fraud case include James Hatuikulipi, Tamson Hatuikulipi, Ricardo Gustavo, and Pius Mwatelulo. The suspects are accused of helping Samherji access Namibian fishing quota in exchange for bribes that ended up in pockets of top officials in government and the ruling party, SWAPO.

Additionally, South Africa has confirmed receiving a request from Namibia for the arrest of lawyer Marén de Klerk, who has been accused of facilitating payments of the Fishrot proceeds to Namibian government officials and politicians, according to The Namibian.

“We can confirm that a warrant of arrest was issued by the Namibian government [that] was accompanied by an extradition request dated 19 May, 2021,” South African Ministry of Justice spokesperson Chrispin Phiri said.

Samherji has previously promised to “take a stronger and more vocal stand publicly” with details on the company’s own findings concerning its operations in Namibia. Samherji discontinued its operations in Namibia at the end of 2019, and the company’s subsidiaries had shut down their Namibian operations by the end of 2020.

The company has denied any intentional wrongdoing and said it never intended “for any subsidiary to engage in wrongful activity, including bribery or money laundering, in order to achieve benefits and will rigorously rebut any further allegation to this effect.”

Photo courtesy of Sorbis/Shutterstock

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