Samherji was unprofitable, it claims

23 July 2020 | Fishing

OGONE TLHAGE

WINDHOEK



Despite revelations that Icelandic fishing company Samherji was complicit in the syphoning of large sums of money out of the country, the company yesterday claimed its Namibian operations were largely unprofitable.

Johannes Stefansson, once the company's MD in Namibia, claimed Samherji had shifted significant revenues to group companies in what he believed to be a tax-avoidance scheme. One of Europe's largest fishing companies with annual revenues of some US$700 million, Samherji first entered Namibia in 2012. After landing a deal two years later with a state-owned fishery that awarded it lucrative quotas to catch horse mackerel, it quickly grew to become one of the biggest players in an industry that brings in a fifth of the country's export earnings, the Organised Crime and Corruption Project (OCCP) noted in a recent article. These include sending at least N$93 million in controversial “fee” payments to the group's other companies in low-tax Mauritius and the United Kingdom (UK), and selling fish below market prices to group companies in Cyprus, OCCP said.



Findings disputed

Samherji CEO Björgólfur Jóhannsson disputed the findings of the article by OCCP, saying it had always honoured its tax obligations to Namibia.

“The total taxes paid in Namibia over the years by entities Samherji was invested in, including income tax, employee tax, export levies, import levies, social security and a number of other payments made to the Namibian state, exceeded N$400 million. That is remarkable in itself, considering that Samherji's operations in Namibia were ultimately unprofitable,” he said.

Jóhannsson also disputed the outcomes of an investigation into Samherji's finances by corruption watchdog, Finance Uncovered. According to emails found in leaked documents, these payments appear to have been part of a plan to extract profits from Namibia.

scandal whistle-blower Stefansson told Finance Uncovered that neither the UK nor the Mauritius firm provided any services at all to the Namibian firms.

This is borne out of a 2014 email in which Samherji's chief accounting officer, Ingvar Juliusson, wrote to Namibian lawyer Andrew Theunissen, seeking advice on a new corporate structure. “Many of Finance Uncovered's allegations have revealed complete misunderstandings of international business operations. They have ignored the obvious fact that multinational companies use specific subsidiaries and structures to minimise the spread of legal, tax and operational risk. Completely legitimate; well-founded commercially and standard structures are all read in light of alleged questionable tax planning,” Jóhannsson explained. He, however, admitted that: “The above statements do not mean that we disregard the possibility of historic mistakes in our subsidiaries' Namibian operations”.

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