UPDATE 1-Ex-Namibian minister freed a day after arrest on graft charges

(Updates after former minister released)

WINDHOEK, Nov 24 (Reuters) - Namibia’s former fisheries minister Bernhard Esau was released on Sunday after a High Court judge declared that the warrant for his arrest a day earlier on corruption charges was invalid.

Esau was arrested along with a former client manager from South Africa’s Investec Asset Management, Ricardo Gustavo, after allegations they were involved in a scheme to award fishing licences to an Icelandic firm in return for kickbacks.

Esau and former Justice Minister Sakeus Shanghala quit earlier this month over the bribery claims. The two are alleged to have awarded horse mackerel quotas to Iceland’s biggest fishing firm Samherji in exchange for bribes.

Samherji said it had hired a law firm to investigate the allegations.

Esau applied to the Windhoek High Court to declare the warrant for his arrest and detention invalid. His lawyer Appolos Shimakeleni argued that the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) investigators had “no power or authority in law to investigate money laundering” and issue a warrant.

“The warrant of arrest in respect of the applicant issued by the first respondent on 23 November 2019, is declared invalid and set aside,” High Court Judge Hannelie Prinsloo said in his order, without giving further details.

The Namibia managing director of Investec, James Hatuikulipi, also resigned two days after the ministers quit, following allegations that he had spearheaded the scheme.

ACC Director-General Paulus Noa said the investigators will now approach the courts again to apply for new warrants of arrest for Esau and his co-accused, including Shanghala and Hatuikulipi.

Esau has denied any wrongdoing. Reuters has not been able to reach Shanghala, Hatuikulipi and Gustavo for comment.

Investec told Reuters on Thursday that the individuals had left the bank and the company had no connection to the case. Its former employees had not used their positions at Investec to facilitate the alleged scheme in any way, it said. ($1 = 14.7080 Namibian dollars) (Reporting by Nyasha Nyaungwa; Editing by Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo and David Clarke)