- Samherji, an Iceland-based fishing company scandal in Namibia
- The $20 million “Fishrot Scheme” scam took place in 2019
- Namibians who were involved in the scandal have all been apprehended and prosecuted
- Neither the Iceland company nor those from Europe who orchestrated the fishing scam have faced any sanctions
Whenever corruption is mentioned, one name pops up – Africa! And yes, in all fairness, a lot of corrupt practices take place in Africa. But a closer and more detailed look at these scams will reveal the truth – the presence of European footprints!
It is no longer news that a majority of corruption cases have been influenced by bigger players in the international scene. One thing that these big players have mastered is the act of covering their tracks and making African locals take the fall. The roles of these locals in these schemes are like pawns in a game of chess, but when it falls through, they become the scapegoats, while the real benefactors return to Europe and walk free.
The Global Corruption Barometer, one of the largest, most detailed surveys of citizens’ views on and experiences of corruption in the 27 EU countries, in its 2021 survey revealed that Europeans are well aware of the justice bias and want their leaders to act with more integrity.
Fishing, and the Fishing Industry in Namibia
Fishing is one of Namibia’s key industries, thanks to the country’s southern Atlantic coastline. It contributes 3% to the desert country’s GDP and 20% to its export earnings.
Its Atlantic coast stretches almost 1,000 miles, with the Zambezi and Orange Rivers offering plenty in the way of freshwater action, too. While commercial fishermen head offshore for Hake and Mackerel, recreational fishing takes place in shallower waters.
The cold Atlantic Ocean fed by the plankton-rich Benguela Current provides popular and prime fishing, a growing tourist attraction in Namibia. Cold-water fishes include steenbras, kabeljou, galjoen, and blacktail, with snoek, are largely available during the season from October to January.
The Southern African country is listed in the top 40 of the world’s largest exporters of fish. In December 2021, NovaNam, a Namibian subsidiary of Spanish fishing company Neuve Pescanova Group, acquired two brand new fishing trawlers worth USD 21.3 million for its fishing grounds off the coast of Luderitz. The acquisition demonstrates that the fishing industry is a major player in the Namibian economy.
The “Fishrot Scheme” Scam
How did a Namibian fishing scandal expose the corruption in Europe? Well, the footprints surrounding what has now become known globally as the “Fishrot Scheme” says it all.
In 2019, a fishing scheme carried out in Namibia was uncovered. The $20 million “Fishrot Scheme” scam was orchestrated by the Akureyri, Iceland-based Samherji when the company was accused of illegitimate trawling in Namibia’s waters.
After the scam was exposed, the company, one of the world’s largest, allegedly bribed Namibian government officials and embezzled funds, besides intimidating its critics.
The racket, carried out in Namibia, Iceland, and Norway, also reportedly involved some Angolan nationals. However, while the accused in Namibia have been apprehended and prosecuted, those in Iceland still have no charges framed against them. This is in the face of the EU’s tough stance against corruption and illegal and unregulated fishing.
How the “Fishrot Scheme” Scam was Uncovered?
In 2019, Wikileaks released the Fishrot files highlighting one of the largest scams to ever rock Namibia. It was a racket that involved top government officials in Namibia and Angola, who diverted fishing contracts and forged licenses for Samherji to carry out illegal fishing practices on African waters.
The scam involved the diversion of the country’s fishing quotas to Samherji. State-run Fishcor was accused of transferring these allocations from private Namibian companies to other local firms linked to the Icelandic firm and in which politicians had a stake.
The firms that gained these quotas allegedly paid $10 million in bribes to leaders of Namibia’s ruling party in return. Besides several high-ranking government officials, even president Hage Geingob was implicated in the scam.
The Fishrot scam was unearthed at a time when Namibia was grappling with the covid-19 pandemic and its economic fallout. It led to the collapse of the fishing industry, wiping out jobs and livelihoods.
Samherji, which was also accused of tax evasion in Namibia, exited the country in 2020. A year later, it absolved itself of all allegations.
How the “Fishrot Scheme” Scam Exposes the Corruption in Europe
Critics have continued to express concern over what they have termed the double face of the European Union in its fight against corruption. They claim that it is morally wrong for the EU to continually persecute Africans and other foreigners in the International Criminal Court (ICC) but turn a blind eye to the bad eggs within their systems.
Despite the glaring evidence, the EU has not acted against Iceland's biggest fishing firm despite evidence of its corrupt deals in Namibia.
The European Union’s (EU) inability to act against an Icelandic company following its involvement in one of Africa’s biggest scandals has rendered its fight against corruption hollow.
The EU’s 2008 binding policy states that: “Member states shall impose a maximum sanction of at least five times the value of the fishery products obtained by committing the serious infringement. In case of a repeated serious infringement within five years, the member states shall impose a maximum sanction of at least eight times the value of the fishery products obtained by committing the serious infringement.”
Not leading by this policy is a clear indication that exists some gray areas in Europe’s call for justice in the global sphere and its positioning as a self-acclaimed international watchdog.
Never Too Late for Justice to Prevail
The trial set for October 2023 is another chance for European authorities and the EU to remedy the situation and justify itself by making a resounding statement in its fight against corruption globally.
To date, none of Samherji’s directors has been prosecuted in connection with the Fishrot Scheme Scam. But critics claim that this may change with whistleblower Jóhannes Stefánsson agreeing to testify openly at the October 2023 hearing.
Jóhannes Stefánsson was the managing director for Samherji in Namibia during the period of the scams.