Samherji in bribery allegation storm

Samherji in bribery allegation storm

Icelandic fishing company Samherji is at the centre of explosive allegations that over an extended period it paid bribes to prominent figures in Namibia, including two now former Ministers, to ensure access to quotas for horse mackerel in African waters.

Former director of Samherji’s operations Jóhannes Stefánsson came forward to blow the whistle on the company’s activities in Namibia, detailing both the level of bribes allegedly paid and the approximately $70 million revenue routed through a network of accounts in Cyprus and Norway, and a company based in the Marshall Islands tax haven and under Samherji’s control.

An investigation carried out by journalists at Stundin, state broadcaster RÚV, Al-Jazeera and Wikileaks alleges that an estimated $10 million in bribes was paid to Namibia’s Minister of Fisheries Bernhard Esau and figures close to him between 2012 and 2018.

According to the report published by Stundin and the RÚV team, Norwegian bank DND off-boarded the Marshall Islands company’s account due to concerns about its beneficial ownership, but has continued to do business with Samherji.

In Namibia both Fisheries Minister Bernhard Esau and Justice Minister Sacky Shanghala today resigned in the wake of the allegations. Bernhard Esau is reported to have been replaced by Tjekero Tweya.

The investigation also implicates Namibian state-owned company FishCor, which allocates quotas.

In Iceland Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir commented that the entire matter must be investigated thoroughly, adding that the case already has the attention of the Icelandic justice system and the tax authorities have also received data from Namibia relevant to the case.

District prosecutor Ólafur Thór Hauksson has confirmed that the case has come to his office and both the Stundin/RÚV material and other material his office has at its disposal will be thoroughly investigated. Whistleblower Jóhannes Stefánsson has also made a statement to the prosecutor’s office.

Samherji issued a statement earlier this week, pre-empting the coverage by Stundin and RÚV, stating that there were suspicions in 2016 that there were problems with the company’s operations in Namibia, and as a result of an investigation, Jóhannes Stefánsson was dismissed.

"We are deeply shocked that Johannes Stefánsson not only admits being involved in illegal activities, he is now also making allegations against colleagues. This is not how we do business,” said Samherji CEO Thorsteinn Már Baldvinsson, commenting that until recently, the company had no knowledge of the scope and nature of Jóhannes Stefánsson’s business practices.

“We have engaged international law firm Wikborg Rein in Norway to investigate the activities in Namibia. In this investigation, nothing will be excluded and we will disclose its findings as soon as they become available,” Thorsteinn Már Baldvinsson said.

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