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.

President of Iceland Attends Coronation in Japan

Coronation of Japanese Emperor Naruhito

President of Iceland Guðni Th. Jóhannesson and First Lady Eliza Reid were in attendance today at Emperor Naruhito’s coronation in Japan. The occasion was attended by at least 180 national leaders. Guðni expressed pleasure, as a historian, at being present at the moment when Naruhito officially inherited the throne from his father Akihito.

“This doesn’t happen every day of course, so the ceremony was very respectable and historic, let’s say,” Guðni told Vísir. “Naruhito takes over from his father Akihito who is still living in advanced old age but resigned from the rank of emperor in April. The Emperor before that was the grandfather of the current Emperor, Hirohito who was Emperor of the Japanese for a large part of the 20th century, so it was a truly historic moment and dignified, but also unpretentious at the same time.”

Gunði says the visit presents various opportunities for strengthening ties between the two countries. The trip’s schedule includes a meeting with Shinzo Abe, Japan’s Prime Minister as well as other members of the Japanese parliament. Both Guðni and Eliza will visit universities in the country during their stay.

The coronation ceremony can be watched in full via Global News.

Pence Focused on Business and Defence During Iceland Visit

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir meets with US Vice President Mike Pence.

US Vice President Mike Pence met with President of Iceland Guðni Th Jóhannesson, Minister for Foreign Affairs Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson, Reykjavík City Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson, and Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir during his first visit to Iceland yesterday. Before continuing his journey to the UK, Pence also attended a U.S.-Iceland Trade and Investment Roundtable and inspected the Keflavík airbase.

Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson arrives at Höfði house to meet with US vice president Mike Pence on a bicycle
[/media-credit] Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson arrives at Höfði house to meet with US vice president Mike Pence on a bicycle.

Traffic delays and road closures

Police warned of temporary traffic delays due to road closures in connection with Pence’s visit. Locals were annoyed with the traffic disturbances but more perturbed by the heavily weaponised security detail Pence’s visit required, most notably the snipers visible on the top of surrounding buildings.

Roads were only closed to cars so pedestrians and bicyclists could move unhindered. Due to the road closures, Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson arrived at the meeting at the historic Höfði house on a bicycle and had a hard time convincing security officials that he was, indeed, the mayor. “I’ve never seen a mayor on a bike,” said a sceptic head of security. “There’s a first time for everything,” was the mayor’s answer.

Icelandic officials discuss business, defence, climate change, and equality with Pence

At Höfði, Pence met with President of Iceland Guðni Th. Jóhannesson and First Lady Eliza Reid. A former historian, the President told Pence about the history of the house, which was the location of the 1986 meeting between Reagan and Gorbachev. He also told the Vice President that “I hope you will enjoy your stay.  And I hope that you will get a sense of how we value a strong and healthy relationship with the U.S. and that you will also get a sense of the values we cherish here: freedom, diversity, international cooperation, respect for each other.” Pence mentioned that he was thankful for the presence of the US forces in Iceland at a time when China and Russia were increasingly active across the Arctic. Guðni’s reply was, “And we must try to avoid at all cost some kind of scramble for the Arctic, and we will work together there, and look back on history and look forward to the future.”

Mike Pence & Guðni Th. Jóhannesson
[/media-credit] Mike Pence & Guðni Th. Jóhannesson at Höfði House.

Iceland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Guðlaugur Þór and Pence conducted a U.S.-Iceland Trade and Investment Roundtable. In his official remarks, Guðlaugur told the Vice President that it was “no secret that I would like to explore the possibility of a free trade agreement with the United States.” Pence acknowledged that this meeting could be the first step in establishing such a deal but also stressed Iceland and the US’s defence cooperation and Iceland’s status as a founding member of NATO.

Addressing the press, Pence expressed his concerns about China and Russia’s increased activity in the region, congratulating Iceland on rejecting China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a global infrastructure investment project. While Iceland hasn’t agreed to participate in the Belt and Road Initiative, no decision to formally decline participation has been taken. This was later confirmed by the Prime Minister and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, who called Pence’s comment “not exactly accurate.” Pence furthermore warned Icelanders to reject the technology of Chinese company Huawei. He stated: “Huawei is essentially a Chinese company that, under Chinese law, is required to turn over all of the data that it collects to the Chinese government and the Communist Party.” Icelandic telecommunication company Nova relies heavily on Huawei technology.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson and US Vice president Mike Pence led a US-Icelandic Business Roundtable.
[/media-credit] Minister for Foreign Affairs Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson and US Vice President Mike Pence led a US-Icelandic Business Roundtable.

Pence met with Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir in Keflavík. The meeting took place shortly after Katrín arrived from abroad, and as previously reported, scheduling conflicts made it difficult to find time for the meeting in the first place. In their opening remarks, Pence once again reiterated Iceland’s business relations as well as their desire for continuing security cooperation. Katrín added that she would want to discuss the climate crisis and gender equality, what she called the core of the government program. She told Kastljós later that day that gender equality and LGBTQ+ rights were a key component of the government’s policy and that there was no secret that she and the Vice President had different political viewpoints. Katrín emphasised that Iceland’s chairmanship of the Arctic Council would put climate issues in the spotlight. She also stated that it was important to keep the Arctic as peaceful as possible, because she was of the opinion that “the climate danger was the biggest threat to the area by far.” According to Katrín, the other big issue what was discussed was defence matters but that nothing was discussed that wasn’t already planned.

Protests

Vice president Pence is known for his controversial conservative stances on issues such as LGBTQ+ rights, and local opposition to his presence was evident. Early in the day, news broke that two people had been arrested for burning the US flag across the street from Höfði House. They were detained for a while and released later that day.

On a more colourful note, Reykjavík locals made their views on Pence’s stance on LGBTQ+ issues clear. Several companies and municipal government offices surrounding Höfði and in other locations around the city centre raised rainbow flags to indicate their support for LGBT+ rights.

Rainbow flags HöfðiGolli.

Protesters gathered at Austurvöllur square later that day to protest Pence’s views on LGBTQ+ rights, climate change, as well as US immigration policies and military influence. The protesters’ slogan was“Let’s stand together in peace, freedom, and a green future,” and was co-organised by over a dozen local activist groups.

Sending a message to China

Silja Bára Ómarsdóttir, associate professor in international communication at the political science faculty of the University of Iceland stated to RÚV that China’s increased focus on the Arctic has made this area and the connection to Iceland more important to the US government, citing US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit in February and Vice President Pence’s visit as evidence. According to her, US security interest weighed heavier than business affairs. Russian military activity in the Arctic is not what it once was, but China is focusing on the Arctic as trade routes open up due to climate change.

“Perhaps the US has some inkling that China is increasing its activity or this could be a preventative measure to make sure Chinese influence won’t take hold here.” According to Silja, Pence’s comment that Iceland had already declined participation in the Belt and Road Initiative could be seen as the US stating their will that Iceland stear clear of Chinese investment.

According to Albert Jónsson, expert in international relations, Mike Pence’s visit is a signal to China that this part of the world is under US influence. “I think this is mostly about sending a message to China. And it’s connected to the US policy in their increasing competition with China, a rising international superpower. Russia is included, but their activity in the Arctic is a known figure and has been for decades.”

Mike Pence to Discuss Russia and China’s “Incursions” Into Arctic on Official Visit

US Vice President Mike Pence.

US Vice President Mike Pence visits Iceland next week, where he plans to discuss “incursions” into the Arctic Circle by Russia and China, Reuters reports. The media outlet quotes an anonymous source from within the Trump administration who said part of Pence’s official talks in the country will be “national security-focused.”

Pence begins a trip next week which will take him to Iceland, England, and Ireland. In London he will meet with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, where the two are expected to discuss Brexit. In Ireland, Pence will meet with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, as well as making a side trip to Shannon for events celebrating his Irish heritage.

According to the press release on the White House website, Pence has planned to “highlight Iceland’s strategic importance in the Arctic, NATO’s efforts to counter Russian aggression in the region, and opportunities to expand mutual trade and investment” during his visit.

It is not clear whether Pence will meet with Iceland’s Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir during his time in the country. Katrín originally announced she would be missing her planned meeting with the US official in favour of attending a convention of Nordic trade unions in Malmö, Sweden. Following a meeting between Katrín and the US Ambassador to Iceland, the Prime Minister’s Office announced that she was willing to find another time to meet with Pence.

PM Katrín Jakobsdóttir to Miss Meeting With Pence

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir will be attending the convention of Nordic trade unions when the official visit of USA vice president Mike Pence takes place. Katrín will hold the keynote speech at the convention while Pence’s visit is scheduled for September 2. Pence will stop in Reykjavík before heading to the United Kingdom and Ireland. His visit will focus on the geographical importance of Iceland in regards to the Arctic. Pence will also place emphasis on NATO operations to quell Russian activity in the area, as well as fostering and strengthening the business and investment relationship between Iceland and the USA.

“It was already known that I was offered to be the keynote speaker at the annual convention of the Nordic trade unions a long time ago, and like everyone knows I’ve never been one to shy away from labour market matters. It’s also been clear that the visit, which was planned by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, has been moving back and forth on the calendar so it has been difficult to plan around it,” Katrín said in an interview with RÚV.

Criticised visit
Opposition leaders have criticized Minister for Foreign Affairs Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson from the Independence Party, as he did not disclose that one of the main reasons for the visit was to discuss the geographical importance of Iceland in relation to the Arctic. Rósa Björk Brynjólfsdóttir, an MP from the eco-socialist Vinstri Græn, stated that the matter is unfortunate for the party. Rósa is a party colleague of Katrín. Furthermore, LGBTQ organization Samtökin 78 had criticized Pence’s visit on the grounds that his rhetoric and actions are anti-LGBTQ.

Katrín stated that her absence from the meeting has nothing do with the criticism. “No, not at all. However, we have a lot of projects to tend to. I had a good meeting with Mike Pompeo, the United States Secretary of State, earlier this year and likewise had a conversation with Donald Trump at a NATO meeting last year. I can assure everyone that when Mike Pence arrives in Iceland – I just hope the date is final now – that he will meet with Iceland’s finest leaders,” Katrín stated matter-of-factly.

When asked if it would have been expected that Katrín re-schedule for the VP, Minister for Foreign Affairs Guðlaugur Þór had previously stated that he sees nothing wrong with Katrín’s absence. “It’s not always easy to [re-schedule], so I believe there is no reason to make it seem suspicious that she has other plans which were decided long in advance.”

USA to invest in Iceland
It was revealed recently that the United States Air Force will increase their activities significantly in Iceland, investing in facilities at Keflavík airport for around ISK 7 billion (€50m, $56m). The construction means that the US Air Force has facilities to operate two fighter squadrons at all times, ensuring that there are 18 to 24 fighter jets ready for operation. It is believed that this is to increase submarine surveillance in the North Atlantic and the Arctic. Along with this, Icelandic authorities will invest ISK 300 million (€2.1m, $2.4m) for maintenance of NATO facilities at Keflavík airport. Iceland was a founding member of NATO in 1949.