Bribery Investigators Head to Namibia

Þorsteinn Már Samherji

Officials from Iceland travelled to Namibia last week to participate in the questioning of witnesses in the Samherji bribery case. District public prosecutor Ólafur Þór Hauksson and investigators also met with the Namibian Anti Corruption Commission, RÚV reports.

Nine Icelanders investigated

In the fall of 2019, the story broke that one of Iceland’s largest seafood companies, Samherji, had allegedly bribed Namibian government officials to gain access to lucrative fishing grounds, while also taking advantage of international loopholes to avoid taxes. The story was reported collaboratively by Kveikur, Stundin (now Heimildin), and Al Jazeera Investigates, after months of investigations sparked by the confessions of whistleblower Jóhannes Stefánsson, a former project manager for Samherji in Namibia.

The district public prosecutor’s office began its investigation in November of 2019. Nine Icelandic individuals are being investigated, including Þorsteinn Már Baldvinsson, CEO of Samherji. He briefly stepped aside when the news broke, but returned as CEO shortly after. In Namibia, ten people have been charged with receiving bribes from Samherji in exchange for fishing quotas. Among them are two former ministers from the Namibian cabinet, the chairman of Fishcor, the National Fishing Corporation of Namibia, and its CEO.

Prolonged investigation

Ólafur Þór said that the trip was mutually beneficial for both Icelandic and Namibian authorities and that the next step would be to work through the information collected during the trip. “The case is becoming clearer, the longer we get into the investigation,” he said, but did not comment on when his office will close the investigation, which is now entering its fifth year. The duration has been criticised by both the Icelandic public and the defendants themselves.

Paulus Noa, manager of the Anti Corruption Commission, said that the Icelandic delegation would help Namibian authorities with the investigation of their side of the scandal, which has been dubbed the Fishrot case. He added that the goal is to secure the prosecution of the individuals involved, regardless of their nationality.

Grindavík More Damaged Than Previously Thought

Director of the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management, Víðir Reynisson

Rationing of hot water could become necessary in municipalities neighbouring Grindavík due to infrastructure damage,  the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management announced yesterday. Infrastructure repair will be time consuming and costly, RÚV reports.

The January 14 volcanic eruption near Grindavík destroyed three houses, caused crevasses to form across town, and displaced the 3,800 inhabitants for the foreseeable future. The town had already been evacuated once before, on November 10 last year, due to seismic activity. Grindavík residents await a government decision on how they can be helped while displaced.

Half of the hot water wasted

“This is a tricky situation,” Chief Superintendent Víðir Reynisson said. “The hot water runs through piping under the lava and the main pipe was destroyed. Fortunately a new one was being constructed and has been connected so that part of the town has hot water, but not all of it. Around half the water transported to Grindavík leaks out of the system.”

The nearby Svartsengi geothermal plant is operating at capacity, but due to leakage of 40 to 40 litres per second, other nearby municipalities may have to resort to rationing their hot water. In addition, no cold water is available in town, as the pipes have not been repaired. Therefore, fire hydrants in the area are out of commission.

Crevasse risks remain

Temporary wiring is being used for electricity, but it was disconnected yesterday due to a possible lightning storm. Most roads have been temporarily repaired, but many streets remain closed due to crevasse risks. Due to bad weather and other conditions on site, it has not been determined whether the temporary repairs are robust enough to hold. The situation in Grindavík is not good, according to the department, but the goal is to increase safety to the point where living and working in town becomes possible again.

The Icelandic Red Cross has set up a page with donation options for those wishing to lend support. This includes both one-time donations and repeat subscriptions.

Child Murder Suspected in Kópavogur Case

Chief Superintendent Grímur Grímsson

A woman is in custody following the death of her six year old child on Nýbýlavegur in Kópavogur. The case is being investigated as a murder, Mbl.is reports.

“The woman is suspected of causing the death of the boy,” said Grímur Grímsson, chief superintendent with the Reykjavík Metropolitan Police. The woman lived on Nýbýlavegur with two of her children. The other child is being taken care of by child protection services. The father also lives in Iceland and has expressed his grief over his son’s death in a post on his Facebook page. Both parents have lived in the country for three to four years and have received international protection as refugees in Iceland.

Many questions unanswered

Police have not revealed the cause of death or why murder is suspected. Many people have already been questioned. “We can only hold a person for 12 weeks in custody, so we have the next few weeks to investigate,” Grímur said. “I expect that we’ll question more people and bring some back into questioning. This is to be expected in cases like this.”

Grímur also did not reveal the time of death. The only confirmed details are that the mother contacted police herself Wednesday morning and that when police arrived at the scene, the other child had left for school. The case is very sensitive to the community, the police have said, as it involves the death of a young child. The boy was a first grade student at Álfholtsskóli primary school and the school has subsequently activated its crisis response team.