Icelanders fed with bribery loot

An explosive interview dealing with the unfolding N$150 million fishing bribery scandal involving Iceland's biggest seafood company and Namibian politicians and officials has lifted the veil on how thousands of Icelanders feasted on free tastings of Samherji's ill-gotten Namibian gains.

20 November 2019 | Fishing

While Namibians have faced drought, hunger and poverty over the years, Iceland's biggest seafood company Samherji fed thousands of that country's residents for free at an annual fish festival from the proceeds of a N$150 million bribery scandal that has implicated top Namibian politicians and officials.

Some sources estimate that the bribes involved amounted to as much as N$2.5 billion.

In an interview, Jóhannes Stefánsson, the Icelandic fishing executive who says he facilitated the bribes for Namibian politicians and officials in exchange for gaining access to a fishing quota “goldmine”, an Iceland journalist starts off by referencing the fish festival in Dalvík, the main village of the Icelandic municipality of Dalvíkurbyggð ,which takes place annually in August.

“Every second weekend of every August, Samherji host a big party in Dalvík in Iceland where they feed thousands of people and invite everybody to a big concert and a spectacular fireworks display.

“Far south of Dalvik, though, is the company's treasure chest, the coast of Namibia. And no matter what day it is, Samherji is never in a giving mood down there,” the journalist says.

He was referring to the Great Fish Day, which is a festival held on the second Saturday of August annually.

Fish producers and other members of Dalvík society invite guests to a seafood buffet between 11:00 and 17:00 at the harbour in the village.

The festival takes place 44 km north of Akureyri, where Samherji's headquarters is situated.

The event is billed as a “generous offer” to get “as many people as possible together to taste fish and enjoy a good day in Dalvík”.

Before the 2019 event, held between 8 and 11 August, it was announced that during the eight prior festivals, a total of 200 000 guests partook of “this fabulous village feast”.

While enjoying free fish tastings, guests can enjoy various entertainment at the harbour and “have a nice stroll in the town”.

According to the treasure trove of 30 000 documents released by WikiLeaks last week, Samherji allegedly paid bribes to Namibian politicians and officials for over six years. The documents include emails, internal reports, spreadsheets, presentations, and photos provided by Stefánsson. The company has been operating in Namibia for almost a decade, with a quota for horse mackerel.

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

Feeding Iceland while 700 000 Namibians go hungry

This year Namibia is facing one of the worst droughts in its history.

Food insecurity is estimated at 39% and poverty levels stand at 17%, according to what is believed are conservative estimates, revealed at the launch of the Cost of Hunger in Africa (COHA) Study on Namibia launched in September.

Namibia's current nutrition profile threatens the future of the country, seeing that about a quarter of children are stunted.

Also in September, it was reported by Namibian Sun that the country's drought-stricken, hungry citizens were estimated to be more than 700 000 people.

According to the plan, which was submitted by Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila, 712 138 beneficiaries have been registered for food assistance.

The Fishcor connection

In 2014 Bernhardt Esau, Namibia's fisheries minister who resigned last week amid bribery allegations, announced a quota allocation to state-owned fishing company Fishcor.

The Supreme Court ruled that 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 by Fishcor.

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 had been sold for previously.

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

Fallout spreads

The bribery scandal may in the long term also impact the interests of Galician firms operating in Namibia, an international seafood business website has revealed.

This is if “if it is demonstrated that the quota allocation system is corrupt”, an executive at a Spanish fishing company told Undercurrent News.

Galicia is an autonomous community of Spain and an historic nationality under Spanish law. Located in the northwest Iberian Peninsula, it includes the provinces of A Coruña, Lugo, Ourense and Pontevedra.

The Galician fleet in the SADC region focuses mainly on hake catches.

Issues with fleet rights could punish the interests of 40 vessels of the Galician capital that operate in Namibian waters, with more than 5 000 jobs and 50 000 metric tonnes of annual catches at stake, El Confidencial also reported.

It also said the decision on a proposed phosphate submarine extraction project, an activity with negative consequences for fishing, has been another cause for the delay in setting the fishing quotas.

Namibia is the second largest fishing reserve for the Galician fleet, which operates in its fishing grounds through groups such as Grupo Iberica de Congelados, Grupo Nueva Pescanova, Grupo Pereira, Mascato and Copemar.

All these companies maintain a consolidated structure in the country, combining the fleet with processing plants. Much of the frozen fish that arrives in Galicia comes from that country, which has been collaborating for years with the Spanish region's authorities.

The Galician government advises Namibia on fisheries research and aquaculture. Galician fisheries councillor Rosa Quintana travelled to Namibia for four days in 2016. Four months later, Esau visited Galicia and took part in Conxemar international frozen food exhibition.


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