By Megameno Shikwambi
The high profile faces in the fish-rot scandal, ex-fisheries minister Bernard Esau, ex-justice minister Sacky Shanghala and four others had their case postponed to today (Friday 29th) for a formal bail hearing.
Esau, Shanghala, and co-accused ex-Fishcor chairperson, James Hatuikulipi, his relative Tamson Hatuikulipi, Ricardo Gustavo and Pius Mwatelulo appeared at the Windhoek Margistrate’s court in hand-cuffs before they made a brief appearance.
They are being charged for contravening section 43(1) read with section 46(b) (in respect of former Fisheries Minister Bernhard Esau) and, section 33(b) read with section 46(b) of the Anti-Corruption Act, 2003 (Act No. 8 of 2003) in respect of Shanghala, Hatuikulipi, Tamson, Gustavo and Mwatelulo.
The suspects all face charges for contravening section 4 & 6 of Prevention of organized crime Act, 2004 (ACT NO. 29 of 2004).
The court was a hive of activity with people jostling to capture their appearance.
Zimbabwean-born Deputy Prosecutor General, Ed Marondedza is representing the state while magistrate Samunzala Samunzala is presiding over the matter.
Bernard Esau is embroiled in the messy scandal which has attracted international media and is accused of being the central power behind the dishing out of Namibian fish-resources to the foreign owned fishing company, Samherji. The fish rot files surfaced after whistle-blower and ex-Samherji employee Johannes Stefansson confessed bankrolling massive bribes in the fishing sector.
Stacks of documents provided by WikiLeaks and leaked to local media also show that the minister and his co-accused received N$150 million in kickbacks from Samherji for using his political influence so that the Icelandics can do business.
Videos of him allegedly accepting bribes and warning that if this leaked to local media it would be front page news, went viral leading to his initial arrest and search of his house last Saturday.
After spending a night in detention at Otjomuise, Esau fought for release by approaching the High Court on an urgent basis seeking to discredit his arrest and arrest warrant.
The case was presided over by High Court Judge Hanellie Prinsloo who initially refused to entertain the application citing that the respondents needed a sufficient amount of time to file papers.
However, another court session was convened on Sunday afternoon which saw the judge backtracking and ruling that the arrest warrant was invalid.
In his court papers, Esau argued that his arrest was by public demand and that the authority that applied for his arrest warrant was not the rightful official to carry out the task.
His release thereafter attracted public outrage while the Anti-Corruption Commission’s Paulus Noa said that they would apply for another warrant following the correct procedure.
Shanghala and the Hatuikulipis
Shanghala and James Hatuikulipi jetted in from South Africa this week and got immediately arrested at a farm they co-own in the Omaheke region. The police net also fell on Esau, Tamson, Gustavo and Mwatulelo who were said to be in Windhoek.
Al-Jazeera said it had documentary evidence indicating that while Head of Law Reform and Development Commission, Shanghala edited legal petitions to have the Marine Resources Act changed in a manner that would benefit Samherji.
There are also documents showing that his business partner and close associate, James Hatuikulipi received millions of dollars and millions of US dollars from Samherji companies via companies in Namibia and Dubai.
In the meantime, the whistle-blower has also told Al Jazeera that a series of bribes were paid by Samherji subsidiaries into companies in Namibia and Dubai and that many of these companies are owned by Esau’s son-in-law, Tamson Hatuikulipi, James Hatuikulipi and Shanghala.
Stefansson has also claimed that the ex-fisheries minister was understood by his colleagues at Samherji to be the ultimate beneficiary of these bribes paid by his associates.
“International Samherji emails from this period appear to support this, where you were described as a “shareholder” in Samherji’s Namibian enterprise and your political importance to their commercial endeavour is emphasised regularly in an environment the authors described as “highly corrupt,” Al Jazeera queried Esau in their list of questions.
Stefansson has also asserted that Tamson on two occasions, in 2012 and 2013, requested a cash payment equivalent to approximately US$50 000 to be made to him, which he said was destined for Esau.
This was said to be in return for assistance helping Samherji break into the local fishing industry which has to be proved extremely lucrative for the Icelandic company.
Al-Jazeera put it to Esau that according to the whistle-blower, Samherji paid over 25% of the quota usage fees due to Fishcor, money meant for the national purse and in some instances drought relief, into private companies owned by Esau’s associates.
Stefansson claimed that these payments were for political influence in achieving Samherji’s aims.
Another allegation from Stefansson is also that the MOU on cooperation in the areas of fishing and aquaculture signed by Esau and his Angolan counterpart on the 18th of June 2014, was devised in collusion with Samherji’s senior management team.
Stefansson has said that this was always designed to solely benefit Samherji companies by providing the Icelandic company with exclusive access to fishing quotas via Namgomar (Pty) Ltd, a company described as a front in the whole scheme. Al-Jazeera has said that documents have been leaked to them which show how money paid into Namgomar by Samherji companies in return for quota has since been paid into companies owned by Esau’s son-in-law and Shanghala.
No significant developments at Fishcor
Although the net has fallen over Fishcor chairperson, Hatuikulipi, nothing much has changed at Fishcor. The board remains intact.
Acting Fisheries and marine resources minister Albert Kawana has taken a half heated approach, accepting a board resolution to have chief executive officer Nghipunya to be put on special leave rather than suspending him as recommended by Public Enterprises Minister Leon Jooste.
“My brother you cannot just make changes before you know who is implicated and who is innocent, you understand? That’s why the former chairperson resigned before he could be removed. He is implicated,” said Kawana.
The board in its current form constitutes of political office bearers such as governors Usko Nghaamwa, Sirka Ausiku, Executive Director of Fisheries Dr. Moses Maurihungirire, Ndaendomwenyo Sheya and Dr. Bennet Kanguma as chairperson.
On the 14th of November, public enterprises minister Leon Jooste wrote to Kawana asking for the axing of Nghipunya and Hatuikulipi.
However, this week, Kawana told this publication that he was not being pushed by Jooste on what to do at the ministry as he had already began with consultation.
President Hage Geingob has tasked him to investigate corruption at the ministry. “Some of these things will come before court you understand? I will just give you general information. I did not do that because my colleague (Jooste) wrote to me. I had already engaged the board of Fishcor.
The former chairperson of Fishcor as you know resigned and then the board took a decision to grant leave to the Chief Executive Officer. As I am talking to you now he is on leave pending investigations on some of these, you know, allegations.
But I do not want to say more than that otherwise you jeopardize the case, you understand?
You know the law is very strange sometimes. People who are guilty may be let off the hook through some technicalities.
We need to avoid that possibility,” he said.