Esau offers N$23m assets for bail

The former fisheries minister is willing to trade his material wealth for freedom after nearly eight months in incarceration over the Fishrot bribery scandal.

07 July 2020 | Crime

JEMIMA BEUKES

WINDHOEK



Disgraced former fisheries minister Bernhardt Esau yesterday denied that either he or his son-in-law Tamson Hatuikulipi had in any way benefited from the Fishrot bribery scandal, saying all his assets, including a N$15-million farm, on which he still owes N$200 000, were bought from the lawful proceeds of his political career.

Esau further told the court that he was totally unaware that some local lawyers' trust accounts were being used to move around large amounts of money from Fishcor.

The former trade unionist offered the State his immovable assets worth N$23 million and an additional cash payment of N$50 000 in exchange for bail.

He told the court that he bought his farm in 2002 with a loan from Agribank under the Affirmative Action Loan Scheme, while his Hochland Park house was bought in 1996 with a Standard Bank bond.



Not a corrupt uncle

Esau told the court yesterday that he is not a corrupt politician as he is portrayed by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) and the media, and acquired all his assets long before he was appointed a cabinet minister.

“I have money in my bank accounts.

“Such monies were earned from an early pension pay-out from GIPF [Government Institutions Pension Fund] and from the sale of cattle and other products from my farm.

“I have no problem in providing full information on every dollar earned. Neither do I have bank accounts in any country outside of Namibia,” he said.





The former minister, who is represented by Florian Beukes and Richard Metcalfe of Metcalfe & Beukes law firm, pleaded with the court that his daughter, who is in a wheelchair, and other unemployed family members are forced to seek social grants to sustain themselves.

All his bank accounts have been frozen.

“Presently, my medical aid as well as life cover premiums cannot be honoured due to a lack of funds in my personal accounts, which have brought a lot of stress to my family members who are not employed. Without me being able to work at my farm and or be granted bail to access my pension funds, my dependants are, especially with the economic catastrophe caused by the Covid-19 lockdown, on the verge of starvation,” he said.



Accounts depleted

He added that his wife has depleted her savings and can no longer support their dependents, while farm workers have not been paid for the last six months.

According to Esau, if released on bail, he will be able to eke out a living on the family farm in order to cover their living expenses.

“My family members have become beggars to honour their basic needs … and are presently living on handouts from other family members. I am not a criminal to be incarcerated without being granted bail to prepare my defence under a conducive environment against the allegations of corruption, money-laundering and fraud,” he said.



Good men

Esau, who is now pleading poverty before the court, said his son-in-law Hatuikulipi was also a wealthy businessman when he married the politician's daughter, Johanna, in 2011.

He told the court that he was proud of Hatuikulipi for being an “excellent” husband to his daughter.

“Our relationship is strictly as father-in-law and son-in-law. At no stage have I been requested by him to favour any company and/or person in the fishing industry as is alleged by the ACC,” he said.

Esau also dismissed claims that he had unprocedurally appointed James Hatuikulipi as chairperson of the Fishcor board of directors. James and Tamson are cousins.

He added that he was 'extremely confident' when he appointed James as board chairperson, at a time when Fishcor was basically insolvent and failing to operate effectively.

“Fishcor became what appeared to be an extremely profitable state-owned enterprise which employed about 600 employees on a full-time basis with excellent salaries and fringe benefits and the generation of large profits annually. As the representative of the shareholders, I was delighted with this performance,” he said.







Golden opportunities

Esau yesterday said the dire situation at Fishcor necessitated him to take remedial action, which included the appointment of a new board and, at the time, Mike Nghipunya, a government economist, was seconded to lead the corporation and spearhead its turnaround strategy.

“Fishcor now appeared to myself to be operating on a sound and stable corporate basis under the stewardship of the new board of directors and local management team... Fishcor was on the verge of liquidation before the new board of directors was appointed,” he said.

He added that to ensure value addition with horse mackerel fishing, Fishcor acquired prime land at the coastal town of Walvis Bay with the aim of processing horse mackerel on-shore in partnership with a private sector operator.

He also pointed out that he was not involved in any of activities pertaining to a joint venture between Fishcor and African Selection Trust SA.

Esau also commended the onshore Seaflower Pelagic Fishing factory in Walvis Bay, initiated by the leadership of Fishcor, as an excellent opportunity to create further employment in Walvis Bay and to engender extensive funds for the fiscus and people of Namibia.

He said his office often held consultations with the fishing industry, resulting in the local canning of horse mackerel.



Revolutionary approach

An understanding was reached between Midwater Trawling Association and the fisheries ministry to split the horse mackerel quota 60:40, with 60% of all horse mackerel caught processed on shipping vessels on shore, while 40% would be processed off-shore by rights holders.

This revolutionary approach differed from the previous practice in the horse mackerel fishing industry where no processing of horse mackerel occurred on-shore.

“This initiative was complimentary to the Gendev Fishing Group horse mackerel fishing factory, which was also followed by Tunacor group of companies with their on-shore horse mackerel factories. All these initiatives were driven by my persuasive economic diplomacy approach to encourage the midwater industry to invest in horse mackerel value addition factories/facilities on shore,” he said.



Amendment to Act

The former minister yesterday said criticism that he was the sole architect behind the changing of the Fisheries Act was unfair and that the process was above board, and led by the then justice minister Albert Kawana.

According to him, these amendments to the Act paved the way to legally allocate fishing quotas to non-right holders and to designate Fishcor as the entity to whom such fishing quotas are to be allocated.

“The myth and the perceptions that are advanced in some circles in society that the governmental objective fishing quotas were for the gratification and benefits of myself or any other person or corporation are unfounded and just a witch hunt to damage my personal integrity,” he said.



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