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.

Samherji Journalist Wins Appeal Against Northeast Iceland Police

The Northeast Iceland District Court has ruled on Stundin journalist Aðalsteinn Kjartansson’s appeal to determine the legality of a police investigation into his and other journalists’ alleged distribution of sexual material from the stolen phone of a Samherji ship captain. The judge concluded that Northeast Iceland Police chief Páley Borgþórsdóttir was wrong to give official defendant status to Aðalsteinn on those grounds, Vísir reports.

As previously reported, four journalists are under investigation by Northeast Iceland Police. While it initially appeared the investigation was into the journalists’ reporting on leaked communications between several Samherji employees calling themselves the company’s “guerrilla division.” However, they were instead accused of violating Articles 228 and 229 of the Penal Code — legislation implemented to protect victims of digital sexual violence. They were given the legal status of defendants in the case.

A law isn’t broken by a journalist receiving data

As per news site Stundin, the Northeast Iceland District Court determined the journalists were not considered to have breached the law simply for receiving and viewing sensitive personal data since it is part of a journalist’s job to receive data and tips and determine if it is in the public interest to pursue them.

The ruling notes that, in general, the mere act of receiving and opening data sent without the recipient’s consent is not a criminal offence.

A case built on sand?

The district court’s verdict also states that it cannot be concluded from police documents that ship captain Páll Steingrímsson contacted the police because of the personal videos on his phone, which the police claimed to be the reason for Aðalsteinn being named as a defendant.

Gunnar Ingi Jóhannsson, Aðalsteinn’s lawyer, told Stundin the ruling confirms his argument that “the police’s case against the journalists is built on sand.”

Further Twists in Police Investigation of Samherji Journalists

Þórður Snær Júlíusson

A court case is revealing more twists in the high-profile police investigation of four journalists in Iceland, Vísir reports. The prosecutor argues the journalists are guilty of distributing sexual material from a stolen phone, while the journalists’ lawyer says he has not seen the material and the police theory most resembles a conspiracy theory. Northeast Iceland Police called in the journalists for questioning earlier this month in relation to their reporting on seafood company Samherji, the centre of a bribery and tax evasion scandal that first broke in 2019. The questioning was later postponed when one of the four journalists appealed to the Northeast Iceland District Court to determine its legality.

Read More: Police Investigate Journalists for Samherji Scandal Reporting

At first, it appeared the police investigation was centred on the journalists’ reporting from May 2021 into leaked communications between several Samherji employees who referred to themselves as the company’s “guerrilla division.” A report from Northeast Iceland Police, however, states that police are investigating sexual offences against Páll Steingrímsson, the owner of the phone that was the source of the leaked communications. The journalist’s lawyer argued that police had no evidence the sexual material on Páll’s phone had been distributed among the journalists and that the entire case was an attempt to silence media and “teach the journalists a lesson.”

The case against the four journalists is built on legislation implemented last year to protect victims of digital sexual violence.

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.

Samherji Issues Partial Apology Amid Media-Targeting Scandal

Director of Samherji Þorsteinn Már Baldvinsson

Fishing company Samherji issued a statement yesterday in which the company apologises for the behaviour of its management, which “went too far” in its “harsh” response to negative media coverage, according to the company. Leaked documents show the company’s lawyer, PR consultant, and a ship captain in their employ co-ordinated a campaign targeting journalists who had published investigations into the company’s alleged bribery and tax fraud. While Samherji has set a new tone with the statement, it has left journalists and the public unconvinced.

In 2019, a joint investigation by Icelandic media and Al Jazeera into leaked documents from Samherji alleged the company had bribed Namibian government officials to gain access to lucrative fishing grounds off the country’s coast, as well as avoiding taxes by leveraging international loopholes. The investigation made international headlines and led to the resignation and arrest of high-ranking government officials in Namibia.

In Focus: The Samherji Scandal

Icelandic media outlet Kjarninn published an investigation earlier this month into leaked communications between several Samherji employees who referred to themselves as the company’s “guerrilla division.” The employees worked to gather information on journalists who had published negative press on Samherji as well as trying to discredit them and disqualify them from writing about the company in the future. Several government ministers, including Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir and Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson, condemned Samherji’s actions after the investigation came to light.

Samherji released a short statement yesterday in response to the investigation. It begins by asserting the coverage of the company’s operations over the years to have been “one-sided, unfair, and not always based on facts,” stating that in such situations, it can be “difficult not to react.” It labelled the leaked communications between its “guerrilla division” members as “unfortunate.” The statement concludes with an apology of sorts, stating: “Samherji’s management has also reacted harshly to negative coverage of the company and it is clear that those reactions went too far. For that reason, Samherji would like to apologise for that conduct.”

RÚV journalists expressed their hope that the statement signalled a change of direction for Samherji, whose owners have refused to grant journalists an interview since the Fishrot Files scandal broke in 2019. They were, however, critical of its vague wording and lack of reference to specific company executives, actions, or even who the apology is directed towards. “Maybe this apology would have been better if it had been clearer who was apologising to whom and for what,” Heiðar Örn Sigurfinsson, Deputy News Editor of Iceland’s National Broadcaster RÚV wrote in a Facebook post.

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 Accuses Reporters of Breaching Ethics Guidelines

Þorsteinn Már Samherji

Seafood company Samherji’s claims RÚV reporters breached the national broadcaster’s code of ethics when they discussed the company on social media. Samherji’s lawyer has filed a complaint with RÚV’s Ethics Committee, claiming that social media posts made by 11 RÚV reporters between November 2019 and August 2020 breached their ethics code, which requires reporters to refrain from taking a public stance on political issues. Samherji made international headlines last year after an investigation by RÚV, Stundin, and Al Jazeera, alleged that the company had bribed Namibian government officials to gain access to lucrative fishing grounds, while also taking advantage of international loopholes to avoid taxes.

Read More: Samherji Scandal

According to a notice on Samherji’s website, the complaint is based on a rule in RÚV’s code of ethics that states “Staff, who cover news, news-related material, and programming do not take a public stance in discussions on political issues or controversial issues in the public debate, incl. on social media.” Therefore, the complaint itself asserts, the RÚV employees “cannot, in light of their behaviour on social media, be considered objective when it comes to coverage of [Samherji].”

Eleven reporters and programmers are named in the complaint: Aðalsteinn Kjartansson, Freyr Gígja Gunnarsson, Helgi Seljan, Lára Ómarsdóttir, Rakel Þorbergsdóttir, Sigmar Guðmundsson, Snærós Sindradóttir, Stígur Helgason, Sunna Valgerðardóttir, Þóra Arnórsdóttir, and Tryggvi Aðalbjörnsson. Two of the reporters named were awarded for their investigative reporting on Samherji by the Union of Icelandic Journalists last year.

Shared Satire of Samherji

The social media posts that Samherji has compiled in their complaint mostly reference the company’s activities in Namibia, although they extend to other cases directly and indirectly involving Samherji, including ownership of companies in the fisheries sector and shareholding in freight company Eimskip. One post the complaint lists as unacceptable involves an oil painting, pictured below.

The painting, by artist Þrándur Þórarinsson, shows Samherji CEO Þorsteinn Már Baldvinsson and Iceland’s Minister of Fisheries Kristján Þór Júlíusson on board a ship with Samherji’s logo, toasting with champagne while four fishermen, sporting skulls instead of faces, toil away in the background. Reporter Aðalsteinn Kjartansson shared the post without comment. “By sharing the post, Aðalsteinn agrees with the artist’s message, which is negative toward [Samherji],” the complaint asserts.

Samherji is demanding that RÚV’s ethics committee rule the posts as a violation of the national broadcater’s code of ethics, as well as determine whether some involve repeated violations.

Read more on the Samherji investigation and the challenges facing Icelandic media today.

Former Samherji CEO Reinstated

Þorsteinn Már Samherji

Þorsteinn Már Baldvinsson has returned to his position as CEO of seafood company Samherji after stepping down last November. Þorsteinn stepped down from the position last November after an investigation alleged the large fishing company had bribed Namibian government officials to gain access to lucrative fishing grounds, while also taking advantage of international loopholes to avoid taxes.

Read More: Samherji Scandal

A notice on the Samherji website announcing Þorsteinn’s return states that his main task will be leading the company through the challenges presented by COVID-19. “Þorsteinn Már has previously steered Samherji through the Icelandic banking collapse and the global financial crisis with outstanding results. The board of Samherji therefore believes that no one is better equipped to tackle the current situation,” Eiríkur S. Jóhannsson, chairman of the board, is quoted as saying.

Returns despite ongoing investigation

In the wake of the bribery allegations, Samherji solicited the aid of Norway-based law firm Wikborg Rein to conduct an internal investigation. The hiring of Wikborg Rein was heavily criticised, as the firm also defended Samherji’s interests in Namibia. The firm’s investigation is ongoing, and Samherji states that it is expected to be completed later this year.

Samherji increases stake in Eimskip

On March 10, Samherji increased its stake in Icelandic freight company Eimskip by 3.05%, giving it a 30.11% stake in the company after the purchase. As a result, the company’s holding exceeded the acquisition limit. However, Samherji Holding requested an exemption from the takeover obligation, which the Central Bank’s Financial Supervisory Authority approved on March 31. The Authority considers that the minority protection of other shareholders has not been violated.

“These are very particular and unusual conditions on the financial market,” stated Björgólfur Jóhannsson, director of Samherji Holding. “We do not therefore consider it wise to put forth a takeover bid in the shadow of this turmoil but we hope the conditions will be more favourable later.”

Journalism Award Given for Reportage on Samherji Scandal

Four journalists have been awarded the Union of Icelandic Journalists’ 2019 Bladamannaverðlaun for Best Investigative Reporting for their coverage of the Samherji Scandal, Kjarninn reports. One of last year’s biggest news stories in Iceland, the scandal ignited investigations both domestically and abroad when allegations were made that one of the country’s largest seafood companies, Samherji, had bribed government officials in Namibia in order to gain lucrative fishing rights and avoid taxation.

In Focus: Samherji Scandal

Aðal­­­steinn Kjart­ans­­son, Helgi Selj­an, and Stefán Drengs­­son, reporters for RÚV’s investigative news program Kveikur, and Ingi Freyr Vil­hjálms­­son, a journalist for Stundin, all received the award for their collaborative coverage of the scandal with Al Jazeera and Wikileaks. “Few stories generated more interest in the Icelandic media…” read the jury’s justification for the award. “The coverage has had a significant impact, both here in Iceland and abroad.”

See Also: Broken News

Arnar Páll Hauksson, a reporter for RÚV’s radio program Spegillinn, received the Journalist of the Year award for his coverage of wage issues. “With his deep knowledge and expertise built on years of experience, Arnar Páll has delivered high-quality coverage on wage issues in countless articles and in-depth reports at a time of great upheaval on the labour market. He has covered ideas and suggestions that have been made in wage negotiations in great detail and was frequently the first to report new developments.”

The award for Best Coverage of the Year went to Stundinn’s Alma Mjöll Ólafs­dótt­ir, Jóhann Páll Jóhanns­­son, Mar­grét Mart­eins­dótt­ir, and Stein­­dór Grétar Jóns­­son for their reporting on climate change issues, which was commended by the jury for providing comprehensive reportage on the foreseeable consequences of man-made global warming, its manifestations both in Iceland and abroad, and efforts made by both the government and individuals to counteract damage already done to the environment.

Interview of the Year was given to Erla Björg Gunn­­ar­s­dótt­ir, Nadine Guð­rún Yag­hi, and Jóhann K. Jóhanns­­son for an interview with a young woman who grew up in Seltjarnarnes with a mentally ill mother who struggled with drug addiction. As a child, the interviewee endured neglect and abuse at the hands of her mother, but Child Protection Services in her town neglected to intervene. “The interview received well-deserved attention and was followed by numerous reports on the status of vulnerable children, the operations of child welfare committees, and other related issues,” read the jury’s award justification.