November 13, 2019 / 6:30 PM / 24 days ago

Two Namibian ministers quit in bribery scandal involving Icelandic fishing firm

WINDHOEK (Reuters) - Namibia’s justice and fisheries ministers resigned on Wednesday over bribery claims involving Icelandic fishing firm Samherji, the presidency said.

Justice Minister Sackeus Shanghala and Fisheries and Marine Resources Minister Bernhard Esau quit following media reports they had awarded horse mackerel quotas to Iceland’s biggest fishing firm in exchange for bribes.

Namibian President Hage Geingob said he had accepted the resignations after meeting the two ministers to discuss the allegations, adding they were “innocent until proven guilty”.

Esau denied wrongdoing, saying he had only stepped down to prevent a “media campaign” from tarnishing the ruling South West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO) ahead of general elections later in November.

Citing documents gathered by Wikileaks, The Namibian newspaper, Iceland’s national broadcaster RUV and other media reported on Tuesday that the two ministers and the Namibia managing director of South African investment firm Investec had spearheaded a fishing scheme generating kickbacks of at least 150 million Namibian dollars ($10 million) over four years.

Shanghala did not answer his phone when contacted by Reuters for comment. Investec’s Namibian managing director, James Hatuikulipi, could not be reached for comment.

Investec said on Twitter it had “noted” the media reports. It said it was looking into the matter and would cooperate with the authorities.

Icelandic newspaper Studin reported that Samherji transferred more than $70 million through a shell company in the tax haven Marshall Islands from 2011 to 2018, with part of the money going to Namibian officials.

Also citing documents supplied by Wikileaks, The Namibian newspaper reported that the scheme began in 2014 and included relatives of the ministers and officials from Angola.

The scandal may add to pressure on Geingob and his ruling SWAPO party, with the sparsely populated southern African nation facing its worst economic crisis in decades.

“The majority of voters are predominantly rural-based, which constitutes SWAPO’s traditional base. These voters are the least informed about issues of corruption,” former cabinet minister Kazenambo Kazenambo told Reuters.

Separately, Norwegian bank DNB said on Wednesday it was investigating allegations that Samherji had transferred the bribes via the bank to the Namibian officials.

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

“We have engaged the international law firm Wikborg Rein in Norway to investigate the activities in Namibia. In this investigation, nothing will be excluded and we will disclose its findings as soon as they become available,” the firm said.

Samherji said it always acted in accordance with the laws of the countries in which it operated and that it would cooperate with Namibian authorities on the case. The firm was not available for further comment.

Reporting by Nyasha Nyaungwa in Windhoek, Terje Solsvik and Gwladys Fouche in Oslo, and Stine Jacobsen in Copenhagen; Writing Mfuneko Toyana in Johannesbburg; Editing by Gareth Jones and Giles Elgood

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