An investigation by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and The Namibian newspaper has implicated Namibia’s president in fresh charges of corruption concerning the country’s lucrative fishing industry.
President Hage Geingob allegedly ordered his close associates to embezzle millions of dollars from a state-run fishing enterprise to bribe electors at the ruling SWAPO (South West Africa People’s Organization) party’s 2017 congress, according to a new investigation released on Friday.
According to the lawyer, Hage Geingob– who was elected President of Namibia in 2014 and re-elected in 2019– allegedly asked James Hatuikulipi, then-chairman of the state-owned fishing company Fishcor, to set up an elaborate corporate structure to syphon public funds raised from the country’s lucrative fishing resources.
Between July 2017 and November 2018, front companies set up by SWAPO proxies transferred $4.5 million via this scheme, according to bank records examined by OCCRP.
As a fee, a SWAPO-affiliated lawyer was told he’d get payments the size of “telephone numbers.”
The accusations carry the stench of the so-called Fishrot scandal to Geingob’s doorstep, which was first revealed by Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit in collaboration with WikiLeaks and Icelandic public broadcaster RUV.
The charismatic leader of the country has categorically denied any involvement in what many consider to be the country’s largest corruption scandal since independence in 1990.
Figures close to Namibia’s president, including his lawyer Sisa Namandje and the country’s former Fisheries Minister Bernhard Esau, were recorded discussing the laundering of political contributions to the ruling SWAPO party in undercover footage filmed by Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit in 2019.
In the Al Jazeera investigation Anatomy of a Bribe, former fishing executive Johannes Stefansson said that his associates, Hatuikulipi and Sacky Shanghala, used proceeds from the country’s fishing resources to finance Geingob’s 2014 election campaign.
Though “the whole country is talking about Fishrot and corruption,” SWAPO’s former General Secretary, Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana, told Al Jazeera, “it appears this message is not reaching [Geingob and the party leadership].”
Shanghala and Hatuikulipi allegedly used recent changes to Namibia’s fishing laws – which the Fishrot investigation revealed were the work of Shanghala in collusion with Hatuikulipi – to change the regulations concerning who could be granted fishing quotas.
The amendments to the Marine Resources Act gave then-Minister Esau complete control over the deal’s terms and included confidentiality provisions.
Shanghala and Hatuikulipi established and managed Ndilimani Trust (meaning “dynamite” trust in Oshiwambo, Namibia’s most widely spoken Indigenous language). The Ndilimani Trust owned a variety of businesses in the country’s fishing industry.
According to a handwritten note written by Shanghala, the so-called Project 2017 will see Ndilimani Trust distribute 700,000 Namibian dollars ($50,000) in cash payments to various SWAPO wings and regional hubs.
Hatuikulipi withdrew 500,000 Namibian dollars ($35,000) from one of the front companies used in the fishing agreement just before SWAPO’s 2017 congress. The money will be used to secure electors for Geingob’s re-election as the party’s presidential nominee at the SWAPO Congress, according to a lawyer involved in the agreement.
Fish processing plant
In 2017, a series of companies were allegedly set up to serve as conduits for proceeds raised by Namibia’s fishing industry, fronted by proxies who, according to the SWAPO-affiliated lawyer, were acting on behalf of the party’s interests.
African Selection Fishing Namibia was one of these proxy firms, has entered into a public-private joint venture as a majority shareholder with Fishcor, the state-owned fishing company whose chairman at the time was Hatuikulipi.
Hatuikulipi and Shanghala proposed the Seaflower Pelagic Processing joint venture, which included plans to develop a fish processing factory for Fishcor.
Etale Properties, whose owners include Curzola Island Investments, sold Fishcor the land for the planned factory for 160 million Namibian dollars ($13 million).
This sum appeared to be more than double what Curzola Island Investments’ director had paid for the same plot of land two years prior.
Esau awarded Fishcor a highly lucrative 15-year contract worth $637 million to catch 50,000 tonnes of horse mackerel each year, just as the public-private joint venture was being formed – a contract that was unlawfully awarded without a fair bidding procedure.
The government agreed to cover any possible losses incurred as a result of the joint venture’s failure to catch the entire quota allotted to it, enabling the joint venture to capture millions of dollars in public funds, which were then transferred into accounts managed by SWAPO. This provision permitted African Selection Fishing Namibia to demand a government subsidy of nearly $42 million in August 2018.
Sisa Namandje, Geingob’s lawyer, is also identified in the OCCRP/Namibian enquiry. From 2012 to 2019, the Namibian Financial Intelligence Centre reported at least 90 million Namibian dollars ($6.1 million) passing through Namandje’s law firm’s trust accounts.
In August 2017, Namandje’s law firm’s trust account received 2.5 million Namibian dollars ($185,000). The money was intended “as a contribution for SWAPO’s 2017 Congress activities,” according to an affidavit submitted by Namandje to Namibia’s Anti-Corruption Commission.
Anatomy of a Bribe, an Al Jazeera investigation, had already discovered payments worth $17.5 million ($1.5 million) from Fishcor to Namandje’s law firm’s accounts. According to a Namibian Anti-Corruption Commission investigator, the money was then transferred to accounts belonging to the SWAPO group.
Namandje has denied any role in money laundering on several occasions. Hatuikulipi, Shangala, and Esau are in custody facing trial on money laundering and corruption charges. Both of them deny any wrongdoings.