How the 'sharks' were netted

Thousands of leaked documents show wheeling and dealing in fishing quotas in the highest office of the fisheries ministry.

14 November 2019 | Fishing

An international scandal has erupted with an exposé of more than 30 000 documents released by WikiLeaks which show that an Icelandic fishing company, SAMHERJI, has paid bribes to fisheries minister Bernard Esau and his 'sharks' for over six years.

The 'sharks' allegedly include former attorney-general and now justice minister Sacky Shanghala, Esau's son-in-law Tamson 'Fitty' Hatuikulipi, and Esau's cousin, businessman James Hatuikulipi.

The high-stakes corruption scheme is revealed in documents released by the former managing director of SAMHERJI's operations in Namibia until 2016, Jóhannes Stefánus.

The documents include e-mails, internal reports, spreadsheets, presentations, and photos provided by Stefánus.

The first tranche of documents released show the modus operandi of the key players, how cash was carried in bags to these 'beneficiaries', and how bribes, euphemistically called 'facilitation fees' were deposited into a secret account in Dubai.

According to WikiLeaks, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) and Namibian Police have investigated this corruption with Stefánus's collaboration.

Stefánus is quoted by the Icelandic Broadcasting Service (RUV) as saying about the Namibian players who sold the fishing quotas: “It's a crime; just organised crime. They are making money from the country's resources, taking all the money out of the country to invest elsewhere, either in Europe or the United States.”

SAMHERJI has been operating in Namibia for almost a decade, with a quota for horse mackerel worth tens of millions of dollars.

It entered the Namibian market after it had failed to renew its quotas in Morocco and Mauritania in 2010.

According to the documents, one of the first people it met in Namibia was Fitty Hatuikulipi on the rooftop of the Windhoek Hilton Hotel in November 2011.

Fitty put the company in touch with Esau after allegedly promising SAMHERJI that he could secure a horse mackerel quota for them.

Esau reportedly always insisted on strict confidentiality and secrecy in the talks with the company.

The relationship with the company was described as well-suited for political allocations for “political quota allocations”.

Other documents also alleged that SAMHERJI received a quota “through Swapo”; a quota that would allegedly become cheaper, with only a so-called “quota fee” that allegedly had to be paid over to the ruling party.

In return, the company was first asked to pay Esau US$60 000 for his “contribution” to SAMHERJI's entrance into Namibia's fishing sector. The US$60 000 was allegedly taken in a sports bag to the Hilton Hotel where it was handed over.

“For all the bribe payments, there were only accounts to justify this in accounting. In some cases, consultancy arrangements were made and then a lease was also made. This was all for the sake of business and primarily for accounting, so no questions about this were raised,” Stefánus said.

The 'sharks' were flown to Iceland at least three times, and allegedly received millions of dollars.



The Fishcor connection

In 2014 Esau announced a quota allocation to Fishcor. The Supreme Court ruled the allocation to Fishcor was illegal, but Esau went ahead and changed the law, and the court order therefore had no effect.

This in turn favoured SAMHERJI, to which a portion of the quota was to be passed.

A company called ERF1980 also appeared on the scene, which was allegedly linked to “James and companies”, and it later allegedly transpired that its “final owners” were Shanghala and James, who is the chairperson of the Fishcor board.

In 2016 SAMHERJI received a 5 000-tonne quota from Fishcor at a price of 50 million Icelandic Króna (about US$399 906), which was lower than what it was sold for previously. A company called JTH Trading received 30 million Króna (about US$239 943) from SAMHERJI.

This is a pattern that was more or less repeated in 2017 and in 2018.



Quota swap

In 2013 Shanghala reportedly was the mastermind behind a proposal for Angola and Namibia to conclude an international “quota swap agreement”.

SAMHERJI then invited five people from the two countries, including Shanghala and James.

Stefánus described this agreement as follows: “It was just a transactional agreement, under false pretences, so that the sharks could get a catch, which they could sell to SAMHERJI and profit themselves. And they naturally had to get a party with them from Angola, like the minister of fisheries and others who got that part of the cake too.”

Shanghala, at a meeting in Iceland in 2014, is said to have described this agreement as such: “We need to ensure that even if the minister is changed, the agreement will not change. The opportunities we get in Namibia and Angola are not available to everyone, and before others turn on the bulb, we need to get everything started. That is how we best defend both ministers.”

*Sources: WikiLeaks, Icelandic National Broadcasting Service (RUV) Investigative programme Kveikur

CATHERINE SASMAN

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