• International Lawyers Project

Iceland’s Samherji fishing conglomerate should return illicit profits to Namibians, say expert panel



ILP's pro bono client the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) - a good governance NGO in Namibia, hosted a webinar during the 49th session of the human rights council. In the webinar, speakers concluded that Samherji, the global fishing company accused of paying bribes to Namibian public officials should return illicit profits totalling US$650-million it made from the corrupt deal that has become known as “Fishrot”.


“Fishrot is a classic state of looting,” the director of the Africa Programme at the International Commission of Jurists, Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh said, adding that there is a need to hold all the businesses and companies involved in the scandal accountable and to ensure there are ways to return the funds involved to Namibia. “There is a need for stricter laws, jail time and possibly having the banks' licences suspended for a period of time if found to have acted in an unlawful manner by facilitating corrupt financial transactions”.


The transfer of fishing quotas from other companies to Samherji has left long-lasting damage, the secretary general of the Trade Union Congress of Namibia, Mahongora Kavihuha, said. Kavihuha highlighted how the transfer of fishing quotas to Samherji has caused job losses and some fishermen to commit suicide. He said most of the workers who have lost their jobs due to the scheme are still unemployed and that the involved companies be held accountable.


ILP legal volunteer Sam Eastwood, a corruption expert at international law firm Mayer Brown, said Samherji should recognise its corporate social responsibility to respect human rights. He said if Samherji was enlightened, they would look at a fully fledged amnesty programme building on new Icelandic whistleblowing laws to “be consistent with that would be providing protection to individuals to come forward with a full account of what they have observed,” he said.


IPPR executive director Graham Hopwood said there is a need to be more aware of the roles of investors, and to scrutinise a lot more because Samherji promised to invest and provide ordinary Namibians with jobs. “Evidence shows that over a period of about seven to eight years, none of that really happened. There was no investment onshore in Namibia,” he said. “Fish and money were taken out of the country without legal permission, impacting the communities involved with the company,” he said.


IPPR Namibia Executive Director Graham Hopwood


Executive director for the Iceland chapter of the global anti-corruption campaign group Transparency International , Thor Fanndal, said Samherji is a multinational company that has not been known to be ethical. He added that it is well protected by Icelandic politicians. “It's massive in size and has never shied away from pressuring the government or using their influence in social control in pressuring the public,” Fanndal said.


In an article covering the webinar, The Namibian newspaper highlighted the fact that three Samherji executives, Ingvar Júlíusson, Egill Helgi Árnason and Adalsteinn Helgason, are wanted to stand trial in Namibia in connection with their alleged involvement in the Fishrot corruption scandal The company's chief executive officer, Thorsteinn Már Baldvinsson, has denied any wrongdoing.


For the full article in The Namibian please visit here. For a full recording of the webinar, please visit here.


Cover photo: Jerry Chifamba/allAfrica