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.

Organised Crime, Sexual Offences Priority in New Action Plan

Jón Gunnarsson Minister of Justice

Extensive changes will be made to the handling of sexual offences and organised crime in Iceland, according to a new action plan introduced by the Ministry of Justice yesterday. Dozens of new police officers will be hired to meet increased demand. The National Police Commissioner told Vísir that there is “room for improvement in many areas.”

A four-fold plan of action

During a press conference held yesterday, Justice Minister Jón Gunnarsson, alongside the National Police Commissioner, the Commissioner of the Capital Area Police, and the District Prosecutor, unveiled a new comprehensive plan for law enforcement. This plan, which has been in development for over a year, consists of four key components: strengthening general law enforcement, improving police officer training, implementing a new action plan for sexual offences, and significantly enhancing measures against organised crime.

According to Vísir, the plan involves the creation of 80 new positions to bolster law enforcement efforts. These positions will be distributed as follows: 10 new police officers to be stationed throughout the country, 10 specialists to carry out various police duties, 10 additional border guards, 10 officers dedicated solely to combating organised crime, and 10 officers tasked with investigating and prosecuting sexual offences.

In discussing the plan, Jón Gunnarsson emphasised the importance of optimising human capital and improving coordination between police departments in order to ensure the most effective and efficient use of resources. “There are challenging times ahead of us,” he noted, “but we remain committed to getting the best possible outcomes for the people we serve.”

Room for improvement in many areas

National Police Commissioner Sigríður Björk Guðjónsdóttir expressed her satisfaction with the news of an increase in police officers. For years, she noted, the police force has been understaffed, which has severely impeded their ability to carry out their duties. “There is a lot of room for improvement in many areas,” she added.

Justice Minister Jón Gunnarsson echoed Sigríður’s sentiments, telling Vísir that while progress in some areas of law enforcement may be seen as early as this year, others will take more time. He emphasised the importance of educating and training police officers, but also highlighted the immediate results already achieved in cases of sexual offences and violence.

“We have taken the first steps towards building a stronger police force,” Jón Gunnarsson said, “which will ultimately make our citizens safer and better protected.”

A new action plan for sexual offences

A comprehensive plan to tackle sexual offences has also been put in place, including an increase in the number of people investigating and prosecuting such crimes, as well as a bolstering of the system itself. According to Jón, the results have been “unquestionable.”

“The fight will probably never end, but it starts with society becoming involved in the fight against violent and sexual crimes: that we show concern as opposed to looking the other way – and help and report if we become aware of something untoward.”

Over the past year, the Ministry of Justice, in collaboration with the police and other interested parties, launched a campaign to raise awareness about sexual offences. The aim of the campaign was to increase the number of reports. According to the National Police Commissioner, this campaign has proven successful:

“We are hoping that this does not mean an increase in the number of cases, but that the number of people reporting on these cases is increasing. With the increase in the number of reports, however, it means that more officers are needed so that the rate of cases can become acceptable,” Sigríður told Vísir.

The expediting of sexual-offence cases

As noted by Vísir, the processing time of sexual offences in Iceland has long been criticised, although that time has reportedly been shortened over recent months:

“We want, of course, to expedite these cases as much as possible, but we must not forget that technical research also needs to be done: phones need to be studied, biometrics, etc. There are all kinds of things that simply take time. This will never be something you handle in a few days, but we can do much better and plan to do much better,” Sigríður stated.

It is not only the investigative aspect of such crimes that has taken a long time, however, but court proceedings, as well. District prosecutor Ólafur Þór Hauksson stated that such a thing was not limited to sexual offence cases.

“We’ve been criticised, as far as other offences are concerned, for taking too long, but when we examine the processing of such cases abroad, we see that they also take quite a long time. There has, however, been a special effort to expedite the processing of sexual offences,” Ólafur remarked.

Organised crime on the rise

As far as organised crime is concerned, the response of law enforcement is being greatly bolstered. The district attorney will chair a special steering committee for the establishment of interdepartmental investigative teams. They are meant to analyse and prioritise organised-crime cases.

“The number of these cases has been increasing so that more work, more hands, has been required. And this increase that is being announced [in this plan] is primarily aimed at increasing the number of staff so that this can be done faster and that the system has more capacity,” Ólafur observed.

The Minister of Justice stated that big steps were being taken in dealing with recent, worrying trends:

“These are issues that extend beyond the borders, which show no respect for borders, and require a lot of expertise. We cooperate with foreign police authorities, and this requires a lot of cooperation between police departments, and even with the tax authorities, and other parties, within the country,” Jón observed.

Report Suggests Decreased Fine Collection Leads to Increase in Offenses

Héraðsdómur Reykjavíkur Reykjavík District Court

The Icelandic National Audit Office (INAO) recently published a report on the collection of court fines, stating that since 2014, some ISK 1.3 billion (9.1 million USD, 8.4 million EUR) in court fines have either lapsed or been written off. Now, district attorney Ólafur Þór Hauksson has expressed his concern that this perceived lack of consequences may lead to an increase in offences.

See also: Prison Sentences Expire Due to Lack of Cell Space

In a statement on RÁS 2, Ólafur said: “Of course, we have to think about the deterrent effect of the work we are doing. So we agree with the state auditor that in order for the deterrent to be effective, the punishments must have some consequences.”

It came forth in the report that higher fines, in excess of ISK 10 million (70,200 USD, 64,700 EUR) were only collected in around 2% of cases. Notably, the Icelandic National Audit Office published a report with similar findings some 13 years ago and suggested changes to be implemented. Little, however, has been done in the intervening years to reform the problem.

The district attorney expressed his fear that the lack of meaningful deterrence could severely undermine law enforcement in Iceland.

“We are trying to confront this today, both by securing funding for fine collection, as well as confiscating illegal gains to try to stop this trend,” Ólafur stated to RÁS 2.


Police Concludes Investigation Into Domestic Terror Plot

Press conference

The police authorities have concluded their investigation into two men suspected of plotting a domestic terror plot, Vísir reports. The district attorney’s office will decide whether or not to bring charges against the two suspects over the coming days.

Remained in custody for ten weeks

Four Icelandic men were arrested on September 21 suspected of “terrorist plots” against state institutions and civilians. Two of the suspects were immediately released; the other two have remained in custody for the past ten weeks and will remain in custody until next week, at least.

Speaking to Vísir earlier today, District Attorney Ólafur Þór Hauksson stated that the police authorities had investigated whether the two men were, on the one hand, guilty of violating the General Penal Code on terrorism and, on the other hand, guilty of perpetrating firearms offences. It is not clear at this time whether the two men will be indicted and, if so, when. According to Ólafur, a decision will be made before long.

Last week, a judge extended custody over the two suspects for two weeks; they had already been held in custody for nine weeks. One of the suspects’ lawyers appealed the decision last week, but the Court of Appeals confirmed the decision, Ólafur stated. No decision has been made on whether or not a petition for extended custody will be filed.

As noted in Vísir’s article, the two men are not the only individuals connected to the case that will possibly be charged with weapons offences.

As noted in a police press conference in September, the suspects had hoarded numerous weapons – including dozens of semi-automatic guns and 3D-printed components – alongside a considerable amount of ammunition. The men, both of whom are in their twenties, had reportedly discussed targeting various political figures. They had also discussed carrying out an attack during the police’s annual celebration.

Judge Grants Extended Custody Over Domestic-Terror Suspects

Terror plot

Yesterday, the Reykjavík District Court granted the district attorney’s request to extend custody over two individuals suspected of planning a domestic-terror attack, both of whom have been kept in isolation since late September, RÚV reports. The suspects’ lawyers have appealed the decision to the National Court.

“The first investigation of its kind”

Four Icelandic men were arrested on September 21 suspected of “terrorist plots” against state institutions and civilians. Two of the suspects were immediately released; the other two have remained in custody.

According to the police, the suspects had hoarded numerous weapons – including dozens of semi-automatic guns and 3D-printed components – alongside a considerable amount of ammunition. The men, all of whom are in their twenties, had reportedly discussed carrying out an attack during the police’s annual celebration (which was held on October 1).

Chief Police Inspector Karl Steinar Valsson told reporters that this was the “first investigation of its kind to be launched in Iceland.”

Custody extended

Yesterday, District Attorney Ólafur Þór Hauksson confirmed to RÚV that the Reykjavík District Court had agreed to extend custody over the two suspects. The court’s rationale was primarily founded on the complicated nature of the investigation.

As previously noted, eight different units are working on the investigation. “We’re investigating the 3D printer, various electronic data, weapons, and tips from the public. We’ve also sent quite a bit of data to police authorities in the Nordic countries and to Europol so that they may assist in our processing of the evidence,” Grímur Grímsson, Chief of the Capital Area Police, told reports on September 29.

According to Ólafur Þór, the police have also yet to formally interrogate the two suspects. As soon as investigative interests no longer apply, however, there would be no need to keep the suspects isolated, Ólafur observed. The suspects’ lawyers have criticised their clients’ prolonged isolation. They appealed the decision to extend custody to the National Court yesterday.

As previously noted in Iceland Review, National Police Commissioner Sigríður Björk Guðjónsdóttir has recused herself from the investigation, as the home of the Police Commissioner’s father, a well-known weapons collector, was searched during the investigation.