Sisa under scrutiny

When approached for comment yesterday, Sisa Namandje simply said: “Madam, you keep calling me and I am saying I am busy. I have no comment.”

04 December 2019 | Crime

JEMIMA BEUKES



The Law Society of Namibia (LSN) is closely monitoring allegations linking lawyers Sisa Namandje and Sacky Kadhila Amoomo to the Fishrot scandal, following an Al Jazeera documentary that aired on Sunday.

Namandje dropped a call from Namibian Sun yesterday and asked that questions be texted to him, but ignored the Whatsapp message.

When Namibian Sun followed up with another call he simply said: “Madam, you keep calling me and I am saying I am busy. I have no comment.”

WikiLeaks documents allege that state-owned fishing entity Fishcor paid N$17.5 million into Namandje’s trust account in 2015 and 2017.

This money is allegedly linked to the Fishrot scandal in which former fisheries minister Bernhardt Esau, former justice minister Sakeus Shanghala and others are implicated.

The two cabinet ministers and four others have been arrested and are in custody.

The other accused so far are former Fishcor board chairperson James Hatuikulipi, Esau’s son-in-law Tamson ‘Fitty’ Hatuikulipi (who is also James’ cousin), Investec Asset Management senior employee Ricardo Gustavo and Pius ‘Taxa’ Mwatelulo. Fishcor CEO Mike Nghipunya has been placed on suspension after it came to light that he had allegedly used his office as leader of the state-owned fishing company to allocate fishing rights in exchange for money.

The Al Jazeera documentary showed how undercover journalists pretending to be Chinese investors interested in getting a foothold in Namibia’s fishing industry approached Namandje to be their local consultant.

In the documentary Namandje informed the journalists that he was there to guide them to “do it legally”.

“If you want local partners… local business people. I can also get you to the right people to talk to. That is my specialisation and I do deliver,” said Namandje, who has represented all three post-independence presidents in Namibia.

He also warned the undercover journalists to be discreet and careful about whom they talked to about bribing Esau.

“If you speak to a number of people about that, you will end up (handcuffing gesture)… I am not involved in who is to be paid and what the money is for. I also do not want to be involved in that discussion,” Namandje said.

LSN chairperson Meyer van den Berg told Namibian Sun that it is unheard of for a lawyer to keep such a huge amount of money in his trust account without knowing the origin.

“For such an amount he would have to establish the source of the money according to the Financial Intelligence Act,” said Van den Bergh.

He added that although corrupt practices, money laundering and similar offences are serious offences and pose severe threats to the rule of law, the law society appreciates that all persons are presumed innocent until proven otherwise.

“In light thereof, the LSN has received numerous requests for commentary on the matter known as the ‘Fishrot Scandal’, but so far there has been no written complaint lodged with the LSN against any lawyer in connection with this matter,” he said.

Van den Bergh said they may launch an investigation into alleged unsatisfactory conduct by a legal practitioner, either following a formal complaint or on the council’s own volition, if the council reasonably believes that any member is guilty of unsatisfactory conduct.

A local lawyer believes that Namandje has a case to answer and must explain how he managed to hold N$17 million in his trust account while not knowing what it was for.

She said a trust account should not be used to keep money for someone for unexplained reasons and should only be used for the money of a client to pay fines or deduct fees for legal representation.

“As a lawyer you need to know what it is all about. It may be difficult to link him to everything, but he certainly must explain himself,” the source said.

Political commentator Henning Melber also believes Namandje must provide some answers about his role, because it was obvious that he was more careful than the others and felt uncomfortable during the interview.

“At times he almost seemed to have a suspicion that this could be a set-up. After all, he is not stupid. But I think even he made mistakes by offering too much insider knowledge. He was the facilitator in an illegal monetary transaction and thereby involved in money laundering.

“His cautious remarks were revealing in as far as he indicated that this was a shady deal and that he knew that the transfer was done under a cover-up of a bribery deal. He will of course claim that this is not the case and that he acted in [good faith] and only guided by professional ethics in providing services to clients,” said Melber.

He added it would be difficult for Namandje to get off the hook.

“He rather cautioned the others to be careful and not to speak about it, because otherwise they could get into trouble, while making the handcuffing gesture. I am curious to see how he will respond, also given that Swapo and Geingob were mentioned too, when it comes to party donations for the election campaign.

“I would not be surprised if he would act upon instruction of the president or the party and refute the claims and dismiss the documentary as a misleading smear campaign.

“The evidence, however, speaks against this version and will not be convincing. It will only be believed by those who want to believe it; not by those who watch the visuals and listen to the conversation,” Melber added.

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