Samherji says Nam revenue was pocket change

The Icelandic seafood giant says there is no way it would have risked its global profits by engaging in corrupt activities in Namibia, one of its smallest markets.

09 June 2021 | Justice

MATHIAS HAUFIKU

WINDHOEK

Icelandic seafood company Samherji says its global turnover, which it claimed is around N$12.4 billion yearly, was not worth risking to engage in corrupt activities in Namibia for “small margin” revenues.

The company, accused of having played a central role in the bribery scandal labelled Fishrot, is accused of having netted around N$547 million over seven years from the scandal that has landed several public officials and politically exposed business personalities in jail awaiting trial on charges of fraud, money laundering and tax evasion.

The company’s executives, who have been listed by prosecutors as key players in the scandal, have pleaded their innocence, in the process urging the Namibian authorities to go after former Samherji employee Johannes Stefansson, who led the company’s Namibian operations.

Ingvar Juliusson, Egill Helgi Arnasson and Thorsteinn Mar Baldvisson all claim that they played no role in the Fishrot affair. This was contained in their separate affidavits filed with the Namibian High Court last week.

“The total turnover that the PG alleges that the foreign defendants generated over a seven-year period from the alleged corrupt scheme is about N$547 million, or an average of N$78 million yearly, which is about 0.6% of global turnover of N$12.35 billion during the last financial year.

“I respectfully submit that it will simply never have been worth the risk for any business to become involved in corrupt activities for such a small margin,” said Juliusson.

Samherji subsidiaries such as Esja Holding, Saga Seafood, Heinaste Investments (Namibia), Mermaria Seafood, and Saga Investments are listed as defendants by the prosecutor-general in the high-profile case.

Prosecutor-General (PG) Martha Imalwa, according to Juliusson, failed to inform the High Court that Icelandic prosecution authorities in February rejected her request to have the Samherji bosses extradited to Namibia over the Fishrot scandal.

This is after state attorney Ed Marondedze in April stated that extradition proceedings were under way to bring the Icelanders to Namibia.

Not involved

For his part, Arnasson who spoke on behalf of the implicated Samherji subsidiaries, said he only became involved in the Namibian fishing operations from 1 January 2017, when he was appointed to replace Stefansson, whose involvement in the Namibian operations was terminated on 20 December 2016.

“I could thus simply not have been involved in any alleged corrupt scheme or any other wrongdoing that occurred before then. I could thus also not have formed any common purpose with any of the other defendants in respect of any of the alleged wrongdoing that occurred prior to 1 January 2017,” he said.

He added: “I specifically deny that I was involved in any wrongdoing while I served as a director of the above defendants and I particularly deny each and every allegation that I have acted with a common purpose with any of the other defendants to commit any wrongdoing.”

According to Arnasson, he was not served with the application and he only learned about it when “in-house council of Samherji presented it to me”.

“I was informed that there is a perception created in the PG’s affidavit that I was part of an alleged corrupt scheme. I vehemently deny any involvement in the alleged corrupt scheme or any unlawful activity in Namibia or relating to Namibia,” he said.

He further said: “If Stefansson was part of an unlawful scheme, he certainly never informed me about it. He also did not make the faintest reference that he needed my approval for the implementation of any unlawful scheme that he may be involved in.”

Disgruntled worker

Baldvisson, on the other hand, said Stefansson directed all payments of expenses related to Namibian operations, adding that Stefansson “is a disgruntled employee that had to be removed from the Namibian business because of the mess that he created”.

“Mr Stefansson ran Samherji’s operations in Namibia autonomously. All business decisions were made by him. Had he worked under my direct supervision he would have been fired long ago.

“I recall my visit to Namibia and the meeting with minister [Bernhardt] Esau. Obviously fishing capacity was discussed, I was certainly not aware that it was ever even contemplated that the minister would benefit from the fishing operations. It was never mentioned to me or even remotely discussed in my presence,” he stated.

According to Baldvisson, he did not know that fish quotas were allegedly corruptly obtained.

“The Namibian operations formed a minor part of the overall operations of the Samherji Group and certainly did not justify my direct involvement in operational matters,” he said.

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