Jobless fishermen protest over #fishrot

By Jade McClune

A protest by jobless fishermen took place at Walvis Bay on Monday in response to the scale of fraud and money laundering uncovered in the #fishrot scandal.

Al Jazeera on Sunday screened the documentary, Anatomy of a Bribe, which showed key political figures, businessmen, lawyers and others implicated in tax evasion and bribery that is reported to have cost Namibia billions of dollars in lost revenue, as well as hundreds of millions of dollars in kickbacks paid to intermediaries in the deals.

Protests were reported in various parts of Namibia in response to the revelations that the former fisheries and justice ministers were central to the conspiracy to siphon billions of dollars out of the country untaxed. The role of Esau and Shanghala in the unemployment crisis and the demise of Namsov has since come to light.

Vast amounts of fish were exported with their assistance, while many Namibians languish in hunger. Last week it was reported, for instance, that 32 people had died in Omusati region in recent months from hunger.

The ex-ministers and four alleged accomplices have been held at a secure facility near Hosea Kutako airport since their arrest last week. They promptly dropped their bid for bail on Tuesday amid mass protests outside the courtroom.

A large number of fishermen at Walvis Bay have been out of work since 2015 after they went on strike over the terms of employment, in what was deemed to be an illegal strike, resulting in the dismissal of over 1000 workers. The jobless workers protested Monday against the granting of bail to Esau and others involved in the multi-billion dollar fraud scheme.

Their arrest follows that of an Icelandic captain and a Russian at Walvis Bay last week as they docked to land horse-mackerel catches. The Icelander was said to be a “former employee of Samherji”, the company at the centre of the bribery scandal.

Leaked bank records show — on the basis of hundreds of transactions conducted by Samherji through a Norwegian bank (DNB) — that up to N$47 billion moved through Samherji’s DNB accounts to a network of obscure firms and tax havens.

Capturing Fishcor

“Fishcor holds the biggest quota in Namibia by far. A few years ago the company had no quota, but because the sharks, the fisheries minister, and others, changed the law, they probably hold a third of the horse mackerel quota,” Jóhannes notes.

Esau appointed James Hatuikilipi as Fishcor board chairman in 2014 and then allocated Fishcor its first horse mackerel quota, which he took from Namsov. “This company is gone. More than a thousand jobs were lost. This company paid all its taxes in the country and it was sacrificed to get Samherji in and to get the sharks access to fishing,” Jóhannes noted.

Esau’s allocation to Fishcor was later found to be illegal. Prominent lawyer Sisa Namandje – who, according to Al Jazeera, had used his law firm to receive and make payments from dubious sources – represented Esau in that case. Supreme Court Judge Shafimana Ueitele found the quota allocations illegal but, surprisingly, did not set them aside. Namandje has denied any wrongdoing.

Ueitele found that Esau had unlawfully allocated 10,000 tons from the reserve quota to Fischor in July that year, the Small Pelagic Association got 8,000 tons, the Namibian Large Pelagic & Hake Longlining Association 1,000 tons, and Namibia Fish Consumption Promotion Trust 2,000 tons.

Esau then set about to change the law to increase his powers. James meanwhile set up a company in Dubai, Tundavala Investments, seemingly to launder the proceeds to people with an interest in the deal.

After Esau’s amendment became law, Johannes wrote to Samherji CEO Þorsteinn Már to say it had gone through: “James had promised a long-term deal. They needed to start a new [JV] company and share out the percentages.” Thus the amendment resulted in additional annual quota of 80,000 tons “that now went direct to Fishcor from the minister, and from there to Samherji, for a very favourable price.”

A payment of N$2.4 million to a shelf company (ERF 1980) at the same time as Samherji and Fishcor’s first quota came through, was proof of this corrupt arrangement, researchers said. The payments were initially invoiced as “consulting services”, but were later replaced by invoices for rent and housing renovation of a freezer storage unit in Walvis.

“I never saw this storage and when I was working on behalf of Samherji it was obvious that this was just a dummy deal to cover the payments,” Jóhannes said. The real purpose of the payments was mentioned in correspondence with Samherji’s CFO in Namibia, who had apparently forgotten what ERF 1980 was, remembering only that it was linked to “James and them.”

“It’s 1.5 million for the [Swapo] party and 500 thousand for the Seaflower (Fishcor) quota”, Jóhannes replied. The beneficial owners of ERF 1980 are Sacky Shanghala and James, he says. Jóhannes said: “Yes, it was the clear policy of my superiors to obtain sea freezing quota as inexpensively as possible, by whatever means necessary. Samherji didn’t just accidentally happen to bribe Namibians.”

Irate residents of Swakopmund are demanding that the name of a street in Swakop named after Esau be changed. One coastal resident said: “My uncle (a former fisherman) could’ve been part of this protest, but depression led him to commit suicide… last week.” It has been reported that over 30 jobless fishermen committed suicide since 2015.

Others spoke of the hardship their families suffered when their parents lost their jobs. One reader said: “We need a documentary looking into the lives of the 700 people who lost their lives as a consequence of the #FishRot”.

“Call me naïve but I really did think that the reason Namibia was underdeveloped was because of our colonial past, but the #Fishrot documentary just shows that we’ve had endless opportunities to grow and thrive off our resources but a greedy few decided to keep them to themselves,” another said.