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.

Depositions Next in Samherji Case

Director of Samherji Þorsteinn Már Baldvinsson

The office of the district public prosecutor has received all documents requested from Namibia related to its investigation into the Samherji scandal, District Prosecutor Ólafur Þór Hauksson has confirmed with Heimildin. The final step will be depositions of Namibia-based individuals, many of whom are held in custody by Namibian authorities on bribery charges.

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.

Nine stand accused in Iceland

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.

Delays criticised

The prolonged investigation, now entering its fifth year, has been criticised, both by the Icelandic public and by the defendants. One of them, former Samherji General Counsel Arna McClure, filed a motion earlier this year, arguing that the case had been excessively delayed. The court did not grant the motion and she remains under investigation. In Namibia, court proceedings formally began last week, when a number of defendants were asked to enter their pleas regarding one aspect of the case. One after the other they refused to enter pleas, while their attorneys either didn’t show up or recused themselves.

Minister’s Assistant Silent on Purpose of Meeting with Namibian Officials

Brynjar Níelsson, assistant to the Minister of Justice, has refused to disclose the purpose of a meeting he had with Namibian officials at Iceland’s Ministry of Justice last June 7. He has stated that the meeting was not an official meeting and is therefore not subject to the Information Act. Namibian authorities would not confirm to Fréttablaðið that the meeting concerned private affairs.

Namibia’s Deputy Prime Minister, Attorney General, and Deputy Director General of the Namibian Anti-Corruption Commission visited Iceland last June. The purpose of their trip was to meet with investigators of the so-called Fishrot Files scandal, involving the operations of one of Iceland’s largest seafood companies in Namibia. The company, Samherji, allegedly bribed Namibian government officials to gain access to lucrative fishing grounds, while also taking advantage of international loopholes to avoid taxes.

Met with other ministers that day

While in the country last June, Namibian officials met with Brynjar at the Ministry of Justice. Brynjar sat in as Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson’s representative, as the Minister was absent at the time. The Namibian officials had met with Foreign Minister Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir earlier that same day.

Opposition MP Helga Vala Helgadóttir, of the Social-Democratic Alliance, has criticised Brynjar for staying silent on the substance of the meeting. “The Assistant to the Minister of Justice does not meet with the Deputy Prime Minister of Namibia, the Attorney General of Namibia, and the Deputy Director General of the Namibian Anti-Corruption Commission on behalf of the Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson to discuss private matters. No more than the Prime Minister who met with them first or the Foreign Minister,” Helga stated.

Namibian Officials Visit Iceland And Discuss Fishrot Files

Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah and Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir

Namibian officials, including the country’s Deputy Prime Minister, visited Iceland this week and discussed the case of Icelandic seafood company Samherji’s allegedly questionable business practices in Namibia, Stundin reports. The District Public Prosecutor confirmed to Vísir that he has met twice with those in charge of investigation and prosecution and states that the investigation is progressing nicely.

Read more: The Fishrot Files

Two and a half years have passed since Kveikur, Stundin, and Al Jazeera Investigates cooperated with Wikileaks to shed light on what’s known as the Fishrot Files. In that media coverage, whistleblower Jóhannes Stefánsson alleged that Samherji committed bribery and tax fraud in relation to their fishing operations in Namibia.

“We’ve acquired a considerable amount of data, and we’re working our way through that data and conducting interviews, although COVID-19 has hindered us in getting meetings, mostly abroad. We’ve been working on fixing that over the past few days,” District Public Prosecutor Ólafur Þór Hauksson told Vísir, confirming Stundin’s report that Icelandic investigators had met with their Namibian counterparts in the Hague last week to coordinate their efforts. Meetings have continued in Iceland over the past few days.

“Most recently, there have been meetings with the parties investigating and prosecuting these cases n Namibia, and we needed to go over the situation of the case there. I can’t disclose the content of the meetings but will confirm that the meetings have taken place and been very productive.”

Icelandic citizens cannot be extradited to Namibia

Deputy Prime Minister of Namibia Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah is in Iceland along with Namibia’s Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) Deputy Director-General Erna van der Merwe and Prosecutor General Martha Imalwa. The reason for their visit is to meet with the Icelandic investigators on the case as well as Icelandic ministers. After their meeting with the Minister of Justice’s assistant Brynjar Níelsson, he confirmed to Stundin that Namibian authorities had extended no official extradition request. Namibian investigators have asked that Namibian judicial authorities issue such a request, as extradition is a prerequisite for prosecution. No extradition treaties are in place between Namibia and Iceland, and according to legislation, Icelandic citizens can not be extradited.

When asked if it was normal for an investigation to take such a long time, Ólafur stated that it’s possible when the case is extensive. “In that case, this can take a long time in Iceland and abroad. I will point out, in this context, that Namibian investigators started looking into the issue long before 2019. I believe it was in 2015 that they started looking into it.”

Ólafur would not issue a timeframe for prosecution but repeated that the investigation was progressing satisfactorily.

Namibia Requests Interpol’s Aid in Extraditing Former Samherji Executives

Namibia’s State Prosecutor has asked Interpol for assistance in the extradition of Aðalsteinn Helgason, Egill Helgi Árnason, and Ingvar Júlíusson in connection with the investigation of the so-called Samherji scandal, RÚV reports. The three men were all executives in companies owned by Icelandic seafood company Samherji in Namibia. They are all asking to be permitted to testify in the case from abroad, but the prosecutor intents to file charges against the men, for which they must appear before a judge in Namibia.

Samherji was the centre of a media investigation made public in 2019, which alleged that the fishing company had bribed Namibian officials to obtain lucrative quotas, while also taking advantage of international loopholes to avoid taxes. Aðalsteinn and Egill Helgi were Samherji’s managing directors in Namibia. The charges against Egill Helgi are in connection with his work for Esja Holding and Mermaria Seafood Namibia. Ingvar was a CFO for Samherji and the charges against him are in connection with his work for Saga Seafood, Esja Investment and Heinaste Investments.

Read More: The Samherji Scandal

Last year, the State Prosecutor requested that the three men be extradited from Iceland, but the request was rejected, as the Icelandic government does not extradite Icelandic citizens. The State Prosecutor says Namibian authorities have more than enough evidence in hand to justify Interpol’s involvement and that the three men have not provided any evidence to the contrary. She says the trio is attempting to destroy all evidence of their involvement in the case.

Muddying the Waters—the Debate Over Special Interest in Iceland

Central Bank

“By and large controlled by special interest.” In a recent interview with Stundin, Ásgeir Jónsson, Governor of Iceland’s Central Bank, stated that Iceland was “by and large, controlled by special interest” and that “quarrelling with them was no laughing matter.” Ásgeir’s comments were in part inspired by an ongoing dispute between the Central Bank and […]

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Icelandic Directors of Samherji-related Companies To Be Charged In Namibia’s Fishrot Scandal

Boat with Samherji Logo

Three Icelandic Samherji employees, Ingvar Júlíusson, Egill Helgi Árnason and Aðalsteinn Helgason are among the 26 parties to be charged with money laundering and tax evasion in the Fishrot investigation in Namibia, RÚV reports. In a press release, Samherji states that the charge is not a surprise in light of the accusations Namibian prosecutors have issued based on the assertions of Jóhannes Stefánsson, whistleblower and manager of Samherji’s operations in Namibia until 2016.

Namibia’s Prosecutor General published the charges this morning, charging 26 parties, individuals and corporations, with 14 charges such as racketeering, money laundering and tax evasion. Ingvar, Egill Helgi and Aðalsteinn managed or co-managed Samherji’s companies in Namibia. Egill Helgi is charged for his work for Esja Holding and Mermaria Seafood Namibia. Ingvar was financial director for Saga Seafood, Esja Investment and Heinaste Investments. Samherji’s release stated that according to Namibian laws, a charge against a company automatically constitutes charges against its executives.

There are 14 charges. Three of them deal with Icelanders, accused of breaking laws on organised crime, money laundering and tax evasion. They will need to appear before the Windhoek High Court in Namibia April 22.

Samherji’s website states that the charges aren’t a surprise in light of former accusations, which they maintain are based on assertions by Jóhannes Stefánsson. However, Rúv reports that the Fishrot investigation in Namibia is also based on an independent investigation by the Namibian Prosecutor General, which also looked into payments made after Jóhannes left the company, data from Samherji, and payments that passed between companies related to Samherji and the so-called Sharks.

Samherji’s statement reads: If a charge will be issued for [Namibian companies connected to Samherji], that will be Samherji’s first chance to defend itself, but such a charge will be fought full force.”

The Fishrot Scandal involved Icelandic Seafood Company Samherji’s dealings in Namibia and its alleged bribes and connections to higher-ups in the Namibian government.

Fishrot Files Investigation Closed in Namibia, Further Arrests Expected

Namibian authorities have officially closed their investigation into the so-called Fishrot Files, leaked documents suggesting Icelandic fishing company Samherji bribed Namibian officials in exchange for lucrative fishing quotas in the country’s waters. Documents presented in the case also shed new light on the company’s business with Norwegian bank DNB. RÚV reported first.

The case, known in Namibia as the Fishcor corruption case, has just been transferred to Namibia’s High Court, where the six men currently charged and additional accused must make a first pretrial appearance on April 22. More arrests are expected to be made in the case.

Read More: The Samherji Scandal

The six men charged in the case have been in prison in Namibia for more than a year since an investigation into the leaked documents went public. They will remain in prison unless they receive permission to be released on bail. The six are former Namibian ministers Bernhard Esau and Sacky Shanghala, businessmen Ricardo Gustavo and James Hatuikulipi and cousins of the latter, Tamson Fitty Hatuikulipi and Pius Taxa Mwatelulo. The men are accused of corruption, accepting bribes, and abuse of power.

Norwegian Bank Fined in Wake of Samherji Scandal

Evidence submitted to judges in Namibia sheds new light on why Norwegian bank DNB terminated transactions with Samherji, its former client. Last week, the bank announced that it was facing a fine equivalent to ISK 5.7 billion for poor money laundering protection. The Norwegian Economic Crimes Police have investigated the bank after the Samherji documents were made public.

According to Kveikur, after the Samherji investigation became public, DNB asked the fishing company for documents to clarify their business with the bank and counter allegations of money laundering and tax evasion. The documents provided by Samherji were deemed insufficient to “clear up the issues brought up by the bank,” and DNB subsequently terminated deposit and payment services for several Samherji accounts at the bank.

Samherji Owners Transfer Shares to Children

Þorsteinn Már Samherji

The majority shareholders of one of Iceland’s largest seafood companies Samherji have transferred their shares to their children. Kjarninn editor Þórður Snær Júlíusson says the transfer is the largest “inheritance” in Icelandic history, worth between ISK 60-70 billion ($420 million/€383 million). Samherji made international headlines last year for an alleged bribery scandal in Namibia.

The largest shareholders of Samherji, Helga Steinunn Guðmundsdóttir, Þorsteinn Már Baldvinsson, Kristján Vilhelmsson and Kolbrún Ingólfsdóttir have transferred their shares to their children. Their combined ownership consisted of 86.5% of the shares in Samherji and after the transfer they will have just a 2% stake in the company. Þorsteinn Már, currently CEO of the company, and Kristján Vilhelmsson, managing director of ship operations, will remain in their positions.

Largest inheritance in Icelandic history

Þórður Snær Júlíusson, editor of media outlet Kjarninn, estimated the value of the transaction to be between ISK 60-70 billion ($420 million/€383 million) based on Samherji’s equity. Samherji representatives described the transfer as a combination prepaid inheritance and sale, both of which are subject to tax in Iceland. “We didn’t get an answer as to what the value of the shares is in this transaction and consequently it is difficult to calculate directly what the expected tax payments are. But I think it is a given that this is likely […] the largest amount of money that has ever been inherited in Iceland,” Þórður stated.

Maintaining family relationships

“By transferring shares to their children, the founders of Samherji want to maintain the essential family relationships that the company was built on and have been the cornerstone of its operations,” a statement from the company reads. According to the statement, preparations for the transfer have been underway for two years. After the transfer, the largest shareholders in Samherji will be Baldvin Þorsteinsson and Katla Þorsteinsdóttir, with a 43% stake, and Dagný Linda Kristjánsdóttir, Halldór Örn Kristjánsson, Kristján Bjarni Kristjánsson, and Katrín Kristjánsdóttir, with a combined 41% stake.

Samherji’s operations are divided between two companies, Samherji hf. and Samherji Holding. It is the shares of Samherji hf., which mostly operates in the Icelandic and Faroese fishing industries but also as an investment company, that have been transferred from parents to children. Samherji Holding oversees the company’s operations abroad, though it also has a 27% stake in Icelandic shipping company Eimskip.

Samherji is currently under investigation in Iceland, Norway, and Namibia due to tax evasion and alleged use of bribery to obtain fishing quota in Africa.

In Focus: Samherji Scandal

Samherji ship fishing capelin

One of the biggest news stories to break last year alleged that one of Iceland’s largest seafood companies, Samherji, had 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 Newspaper, 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 following report is based on their extensive research.

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