Fishrot: The legal dream team
With less than 15 years combined legal experience between them, the trio were unlikely choices to represent the men who have been put behind bars for the biggest corruption scandal Namibia has ever seen.
23 December 2021 | Justice
When Gilroy Kasper, Trevor Brockerhoff and Florian Beukes were sharing lecture halls at the University of Namibia’s (Unam) law school years back, being part of one of the biggest corruption cases in Namibia was more daydream than reality.
After all, the three lived rather obscure lives as young and unknown legal practitioners, until they were catapulted into the limelight when news of the Fishrot bribery case broke in November 2019.
That month marked the genesis of the alleged multimillion-dollar bribery scheme, which involved several international entities pulling the financial strings.
The case has drawn massive public attention, but what caught many an eye is the relatively unknown faces on the legal teams defending the Fishrot accused.
If the absence of some of the country’s most renowned lawyers was not surprising enough, the presence of the relatively unknown trio – with less than 15 years combined experience - was surely the icing on the cake.
The three attorneys have been stern and robust during court proceedings to date, as they continue to fight tooth and nail to poke holes in the State’s case.
They are fighting for the freedom of alleged Fishrot kingpins Sakeus Shanghala, Bernhardt Esau, James Hatuikulipi, Tamson Hatuikulipi, Pius Mwatelulo, and Ricardo Gustavo.
Just recently, Brockerhoff (33) was dubbed ‘the man of the moment’ when he - after weeks of fighting in the High Court - managed to secure bail for Gustavo, director of Namgomar Pesca Limitada, an entity claimed to have unlawfully received 50 000 metric tonnes of horse mackerel worth millions.
By the time Brockerhoff joined the fray as a defence lawyer for the Fishrot accused, he had just over three years’ experience as an admitted lawyer.
After graduating from Unam, he began his career as a legal officer in 2009, and wase was formally admitted in December 2017.
In the legal arena, he has always looked up to advocate Gerson Hinda and Brownell Uirab, who have made an imprint on his career and approach to litigation, but also because they are undoubtedly beacons of black excellence in the legal arena.
The 33-year-old, whose role model is American rapper and entrepreneur 50 Cent, said the perception that the so-called Fishrot matter is the biggest case since independence is a flawed if based on the amounts of monies alleged to have been diverted.
While lawyers are often labelled as devil’s advocates, Brockerhoff is not bothered about public perception.
Regarding calls for the Fishrot accused to remain in jail without any option of bail, he said: “People have their own outlook on life and see what they want to see.
“To say we are promoting alleged corruption by defending an accused is not legally sound. Firstly, the word accused should tell you that no one is convicted of anything. We live in a constitutional democracy which promotes adequate defence against allegations levelled, which is where we are now in this matter,” he said.
Let’s be fair
Brockerhoff’s university friend and now industry colleague, 35-year-old Florian Beukes became a partner at Metcalfe Beukes Attorneys at the tender age of 29.
He told Namibian Sun the biggest case he has ever been involved in was indeed the State v Esau and others, which landed him over 90 volumes of files to study.
Having passed his legal practitioners qualifying examinations cum laude, he is a published author in the 2012 Namibian Law Journal, did his articles at Metcalfe Attorneys and kicked off his legal career at the firm in 2013.
His best moment as a lawyer, Beukes said, was when he appeared alongside senior counsel against Advocate Geoff Budlender SC and Advocate Esi Schimming-Chase, who complimented him for being “brilliant” after the proceedings.
“The worst moment as a lawyer is losing a case you thought you had in the bag. Mine was my first case that went to the Supreme Court.”
As exciting as the Fishrot case may be for a young lawyer, it didn’t come without criticism as many of his family, friends and even some professional colleagues frowned upon his choice to represent the accused.
His position, however, remains that every person has a constitutional right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty and that his clients equally have a right to a legal practitioner of their choice.
“I am not satisfied with the proceedings so far. After two years, we still do not know when the case will be trial ready and foresee the longevity of the trial to be similar to that of the Caprivi treason trial,” Beukes said.
The 35-year-old Kasper, who holds a LLB degree from Unam, was admitted in the High Court in June 2012 and has listed the outcome of the Avid saga, in particular the acquittals, as career highlights.
Touching on his worst moments, he said there were too many to list. “The worst was the bullying of foreign counsel by authorities and then judicial officers being drawn into litigation against accused persons over whose matters they still had to preside over.”
When asked to weigh in on the challenges currently faced in the legal system, Kasper mentioned the skewed perception placed on accused persons.
“Undue pressure has been placed on our judicial system if the court of public opinion is anything to go by, placing the members of the public in a rather skewed expectation of what the fate of the accused persons should be,” Kasper said.
IN A BOX:
Clients: Tamson Hatuikulipi, Bernhardt Esau
Hobbies: Chess, reading
Favourite author: John Grisham
Personal hero: Mother
Clients: Sackeus Shanghala, James Hatuikulipi, Pius Mwatelulo
Hobbies: Music, hunting
Favourite author: Chinua Achebe
Personal heroes: Advocate Gerson Hinda SC, advocate Gerson Narib, advocate Phatela, Lucious Murorua, Dirk Conradie, Kaijata Kangueehi, Otniel Podewiltz
Client: Ricardo Gustavo
Hobbies: Socialising, soccer
Favourite author: Pieter-Louis Myburgh
Personal Heroes: 50 Cent, advocate Gerson Hinda, Brownell Uirab.