The CEO of the Icelandic fishing conglomerate Samherji has been suspended from his post following allegations of corruption in his company’s activities in Namibia.
Thorsteinn Mar Baldvinsson, who has led the family-run company for nearly 40 years, was relieved of his duties while the company conducts a full investigation, assisted by the Norwegian law firm Wikborg Rein.
The suspension came in the wake of a joint investigation between Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit, the Icelandic State Broadcaster RUV, and the Icelandic magazine Stundin based on leaked documents provided by the whistle-blowing group WikiLeaks.
WikiLeaks on Tuesday released the “Fishrot” archive, a database of more than 30,000 documents containing internal emails, memos, PowerPoint presentations, and media provided by former Samherji employee-turned-whistle-blower Johannes Stefansson.
Al Jazeera’s investigation exposed the roles of well-connected Namibians who facilitated Samherji’s entry into the industry.
‘Fair and honest’
Eirikur S Johannsson, chairman of the board of directors at Samherji, said in a press statement the company was taking this “serious step to ensure and demonstrate the complete integrity of the ongoing investigation”.
He went on to insist his company is “committed to fair and honest business” and “will always strive to act in accordance with applicable laws and regulations”.
Samherji is one of Iceland’s largest fishing conglomerates with an annual turnover of more than $700m.
The company sells its fish to supermarket chains such as Marks and Spencer’s, Carrefour, Tesco and Sainsbury’s.
Following the release of documents by Wikileaks, Johannsson said the company was “deeply shocked that Johannes Stefansson not only admits being involved in illegal activities, he is now also making allegations against colleagues”.
“This is not how we do business. This is not Samherji,” Baldvinsson was quoted as saying on Wednesday.
On Wednesday, two Namibian government ministers resigned following allegations of corruption and money-laundering in the Namibian fishing industry.
Bernhard Esau, minister of fisheries and marine resources, and justice minister Sacky Shanghala were accused of receiving bribes in return for giving preferential access to Namibia‘s rich fishing grounds to Samherji, one of Iceland‘s largest fishing companies.
Esau and Shanghala stepped down “following press and media reports in which allegations of corruption have been made against” them, presidential spokesman Alfredo Hengari said in a statement.
From 2012 Samherji made payments to businesses associated with Shanghala worth close to $10m, the Al Jazeera investigation found.
Shanghala had a swift ascent in Namibian politics, from being the chairman of the Law Reform and Development Commission, to being the country’s attorney general until becoming justice minister.
The well-connected politicians appear to have fixed a bilateral fishing agreement with neighbouring Angola in order to provide Samherji with greater access to Namibian fishing quotas.
In a press release, Namibian President Hage Geingob thanked Esau and Shanghala for their “patriotism and contribution to the work of government”.
Following his resignation, Esau denied allegations of corruption and said “no one has presented [him] with any evidence of monies or favours that Bernhard Esau received” in exchange for “duties as a minister”.
When Shanghala was first confronted with evidence against him, he told Al Jazeera: “I have no recollection of money coming from any relationship with Samherji.”
Al Jazeera’s investigation Anatomy of a Bribe will release 1 December.