‘Too late to withdraw’

The Icelandic company raised concern over the fishing licence and quota validity, repatriating funds out of Angola and the type of vessels to be used.

05 February 2021 | Crime

OGONE TLHAGE and MATHIAS HAUFIKU







WINDHOEK

“I think it’s too late now to withdraw from process and the reputational damage will be too much. This will have implications for you in Namibia,” roared James Hatuikulipi in an email dated 8 March 2014 to Samherji bosses who appeared reluctant to participate in the Namibia-Angola fishing joint venture, Namgomar.

The exchange of emails between Johannes Stefansson, Samherji’s boss, and Hatuikulipi was a heated one.

“I have to be honest with you that I feel disappointed that we travelled to Angola to investigate the opportunity and lobby for quota. We have gone to see the highest office in fisheries in Angola with support from Namibia. Now that the quota has been issued, we are getting cold feet,” Hatuikulipi wrote.

Stefansson retorted: “I’m very disappointed to read your email below and your comments. It is very offensive towards me and Samherji. We are trying to do our work to make sure this project is successful. Because we don't want to pay things right away and we want to have things 100% clear and correct, you accuse Samherji for lack of commitment.

“It's like every question we ask or matter we need clarity [on] is only understood in one way from your side; that we want to create problems,” the Icelandic executive, who is now the whistle-blower in the Fishrot scandal, wrote.

No need to ‘get emotional’

Hatuikulipi replied that Stefansson did not “need to get emotional”.

“All that I have highlighted is the need for you to investigate [the] Angolan regime and payment of fees. Additional to that, I have spoken to you to establish all the issues to make this project work. We all understand risk management and do support your efforts to reduce risk.”

Now, at the height of Fishrot, Samherji’s 2014 decision to ignore its gut feeling as well as an omission to conduct basic due diligence procedures has come back to haunt it.

At the time, several fishing industry giants approached by Hatuikulipi had already declined offers to form part of the Angolan deal.

As managing director of Investec Asset Management Africa, a huge financial firm operating continentally, he needed his reputation intact.

The doubts

After Namibia and Angola signed the bilateral agreement which subsequently led to the birth of Namgomar Pesca, the Icelandics started dilly-dallying and questioning the viability of the Angolan operations and how they would move their profits out of the country.

Namgomar, the briefcase company, played a key role in the exploitation of the quota which never reached Angola.

The company is owned by Ricardo Gustavo, also a Fishrot trial-awaiting prisoner.

Hatuikulipi was adamant the Angolan deal was safe to pursue - after all, he was at the time in the process of convincing the Angolan government to invest more than N$2 billion from its sovereign wealth fund in Investec.

With enough political capital, Hatuikulipi’s biggest challenge was getting the monied Samherji on board.

Samherji knew the deal was too good to be true and expressed reservations from the start. Their biggest worry was how the money generated in Angola end up in their pockets.

“The biggest challenge in Angola has always been to get money out after the sales and many people have burned themselves,” Stefansson said at the time.

Window of opportunity

Hatuikulipi did not take kind to the Icelandics second-guessing him, especially considering the fact that the bilateral deal between the two neighbouring states was already signed by the two governments.

“To come now and raise all these questions after the licence has been issued in Angola is rather a sign that we are doubting the viability of this project, at best, and at worst the minister in Angola may start doubting our commitment and by implication her counterpart minister in Namibia's [Bernhardt Esau] referral.”

He continued: “There is serious political capital at play, and I trust you appreciate that. This strategy has the ability to grant our partnership a fishing right to exploit marine resources in Namibia, at a time when applications could otherwise not be entertained.

“This is a window of opportunity,” he said.

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