Three years on from “Fishrot” scandal, NGOs call on Samherji to address problems in Namibian operations

The headquarters of Samherji in Iceland.

Two NGOs are calling on Icelandic fishing company Samherji to make amends for damages caused to Namibia’s economy and fishing communities by a cash-for-quota corruption case in which it is involved.

Three years since the so-called “Fishrot” scandal emerged, there still has been no effort from Samherji to address grievances and specific issues raised by Namibian communities and individuals adversely impacted by the Fishrot scandal, Transparency International (TI) Iceland and the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) in Namibia said in a joint statement.

“Three years on, Samherji acts with apparent impunity while the communities affected by Fishrot have seen no meaningful compensation and the perpetrators have not yet faced justice,” the statement said.

Although 10 Namibian suspects are facing trial in Namibia for their alleged involvement in the corruption case, three Icelandic Samherji executives facing similar charges have still not been extradited to Namibia because the country does not have an extradition agreement with Iceland.

Former Namibian Fisheries Minister Bernhard Esau and ex-Minister of Justice Sakeus Shanghala are among the suspects facing trial for the Fishrot scandal that deprived Namibia of millions of U.S. dollars.

TI Iceland and IPPR want Samherji’s international suppliers, customers, and business partners “to review their arrangements with Samherji, in particular, in light of their increasing environmental, social, governance and ethical supply chain obligations and expectations.”

Additionally, Icelandice authorities should urgently initiate criminal proceedings and take active steps to address corruption carried out by Icelandic citizens, they said.

“The Namibian authorities should introduce further governance reform, particularly by amending the Marine Resources Act, which enabled Fishrot – and to bring those responsible to trial as soon as possible, including applying to extradite the Icelandic suspects without further delay,” the statement said.

Furthermore, the governments of the U.S., the U.K., Germany, France, Poland, the Netherlands, Norway, and the Faroe Islands, should “take all available steps to ensure that proceeds of crime are not entering their economies through Samherji’s international investments made using proceeds of its Namibian business.”

“It is time for all stakeholders to prove their commitment to fighting corruption and bring justice and reparation to the people of Namibia,” the organizations said.

The Fishrot corruption case was based on allegations made in late 2019 by Johannes Stefánsson, the former managing director of Samherji's Namibian operations. In November 2019, 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.”

Samherji Co-CEO Thorsteinn Már Baldvinsson revealed in a statement and apology in 2021 the company’s affiliates in Namibia had “a lot of chaos in their operations, including regarding payments for fishing rights.” The fishing rights were allocated by Namibia’s state-owned fisheries company, National Fishing Corporation of Namibia (FISHCOR) between 2014 and 2019.

“It is my and Samherji's firm position that no criminal offenses were committed in Namibia by companies on our behalf or their employees, apart from the conduct that the former managing director has directly confessed to and acknowledged,” Baldvinsson said.

Photo courtesy of Samherji


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