Norwegian police probe bank DNB over Namibia fisheries scandal

OSLO (Reuters) - Norwegian police are investigating DNB DNB.OL, the country's largest bank, to establish whether any laws were broken in its handling of payments from an Icelandic fisheries firm to Namibia, police and the bank said on Thursday.

FILE PHOTO: A view of DNB bank's local office in Riga November 20, 2013. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

The investigation follows a report by Iceland’s public broadcaster this month that said Icelandic fisheries group Samherji had made illicit payments worth millions of dollars to secure fishing quotas in Namibia.

Samherji and DNB have both denied wrongdoing.

The case has led to the arrest of Namibia’s former justice minister and cast a shadow over the country’s ruling party as it contests an election.

“The goal of the investigation is to establish what happened and whether crimes were committed,” the white-collar crimes unit of the Norwegian police force said in a statement.

Icelandic newspaper Stundin reported on Nov. 12 that Samherji had transferred more than $70 million through a shell company, Cape Cod FS, from 2011 to 2018, with part of the money going to Namibian officials.

Samherji said on Thursday it did not own Cape Cod FS and refuted suggestions that payments it made to the firm were “unexplained or abnormal.” It said it had paid $28.9 million to the company in relation to operations in Namibia.

Samherji said it hired a Norwegian law firm earlier in November to assist in investigating the allegations.

“The investigation will continue and the relevant authorities will be provided with all findings,” Samherji’s interim CEO, Björgólfur Jóhannsson, said in a statement.

DNB said the Norwegian police investigation gave it the chance to share everything it knows about the case. The bank said last week it was investigating reports of alleged improper payments by Samherji to Namibian officials.

DNB said it was cooperating with the Norwegian police investigation.

“At the same time, it is important to remember that the one accused of corruption or money laundering in this matter is not a Norwegian bank, but an Icelandic fisheries company,” it said.

Reporting by Terje Solsvik and Nerijus Adomaitis; Editing by Nick Tattersall