January 18, 2020 / 1:42 PM / a month ago

Iceland’s Samherji exiting Namibia following bribery scandal

WINDHOEK (Reuters) - Samherji, the Icelandic fishing company at the center of Namibia’s biggest corruption scandal, announced on Friday that it is withdrawing from the southwest African nation.

The move comes as former justice minister Sakeus Shanghala and fisheries minister Bernardt Esau, along with two former employees of South Africa’s Investec, remain in custody.

The men have been in custody since November after allegations they conspired with Samherji to receive payments worth 100 million Namibian dollars ($6.92 million) in exchange for horse mackerel fishing quotas.

Interim Chief Executive, Björgólfur Jóhannsson, said in a statement that Samherji is currently de-investing its operation in Namibia, but did not give a time frame, only saying that the process “will take some time”.

“The process will be conducted in close dialogue with relevant authorities and in line with international standards and law,” he said.

In the meantime, Samherji, which has denied wrongdoing, as have Esau and Shanghala, said it has taken steps to implement a corporate governance and compliance system.

“Samherji will develop and implement a holistic compliance system based on the company’s risk structure with focus on, among others, anti-corruption, economic sanctions and anti-money laundering,” Jóhannsson said.

The system is expected to be implemented and be up and running later this year.

Jóhannsson added that the company had managed to protect relationships with customers and partners both domestically and abroad and continued to service all customers as normal even though Samherji has faced serious accusations from the media in recent months.

“Our employees have, as always, done a fantastic job focusing on making sure we deliver product of top quality to the local and international market,” he said.

Samherji’s former CEO Thorsteinn Már Baldvinsson stepped down in November after the bribery scandal became public.

The scheme, exposed by Wikileaks, began in 2014 and included relatives of the ministers and officials, according to documents it posted online. It used a bilateral deal between Angola and Namibia to win Samherji quotas of tens of thousands of tonnes a year of horse mackerel, according to the documents.

According to media reports, Esau, the then fisheries minister, stripped some private companies of fishing quotas and handed them to state-owned fishing company Fishcor, whose officials passed on to Samherji in exchange for payments.

Investec said in November that its former employees had not used their Investec positions to facilitate the scheme.

Samherji had tried to sell its assets in Namibia, including a N$400 million vessel, before the bribery scandal became international headline news.

Reporting by Nyasha Nyaungwa; editing by Christina Fincher

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