Namibian president caught in new fishing corruption allegations
A new investigation details how President Hage Geingob allegedly instructed associates to embezzle millions of dollars.
The president of Namibia has been implicated in new allegations of corruption involving the country’s lucrative fishing industry by an investigation released by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and The Namibian newspaper.
According to a lawyer who allegedly arranged the deal, President Hage Geingob instructed his close associates to embezzle millions of dollars from a state-run fishing enterprise in order to bribe electors at the 2017 congress of the ruling SWAPO (South West Africa People’s Organization) party, reports the new investigation released on Friday.
The lawyer, who is not named by the OCCRP, claims that Hage Geingob – elected as 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 in order to siphon public funds generated from the country’s lucrative fishing resources.
According to bank records analysed by OCCRP, front companies set up by SWAPO proxies transferred $4.5m through this scheme between July 2017 and November 2018.
A SWAPO-affiliated lawyer was told he would receive payments the size of “telephone numbers” as a fee.
The allegations bring the stench of the so-called Fishrot scandal, originally exposed by Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit in partnership with WikiLeaks and the Icelandic public broadcaster RUV, to Geingob’s doorstep.
The country’s charismatic leader has strenuously denied any implication in what many consider to be the country’s biggest corruption scandal since its independence in 1990.
In undercover footage filmed by Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit in 2019, figures close to Namibia’s president, including his personal 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.
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In the Al Jazeera investigation Anatomy of a Bribe, the former fishing executive Johannes Stefansson, who blew the whistle on corruption he says he facilitated while working on behalf of the Icelandic fishing conglomerate Samherji, alleged that his associates, Hatuikulipi and Sacky Shanghala, had used the profits reaped from the country’s fishing resources to fund Geingob’s 2014 election campaign.
SWAPO’s former General Secretary, Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana, told Al Jazeera that while “the whole country is talking about Fishrot and corruption … it appears this message is not reaching [Geingob and the party leadership]”.
The newly-revealed alleged corruption scheme saw Shanghala and Hatuikulipi take advantage of recent amendments to Namibia’s fishing laws – which the Fishrot investigation had exposed as being the work of Shanghala in collusion with Hatuikulipi – reforming the regulations concerning who could be awarded fishing quotas.
The changes to the Marine Resources Act provided then-minister Esau with full discretion over the terms of the deal, and introduced secrecy clauses.
A holding company, Ndilimani Trust (meaning “dynamite” trust in Oshiwambo, the most widely spoken Indigenous language of Namibia) was set up and controlled by Shanghala and Hatuikulipi. Ndilimani Trust owned a series of companies that were active in the country’s fishing industry.
According to a handwritten note written by Shanghala, the so-called Project 2017 would see some 700,000 Namibian dollars ($50,000) distributed in cash payments from Ndilimani Trust to various wings and regional hubs of the SWAPO party.
Shortly before SWAPO’s 2017 congress, Hatuikulipi withdrew 500,000 Namibian dollars ($35,000) from one of the front companies used in the fishing deal. According to a lawyer involved in the deal, the money would be spent on securing electors for Geingob’s re-election as the party’s chosen presidential candidate at the SWAPO congress.
A series of companies were allegedly set up in 2017 to act as conduits for the proceeds generated from Namibia’s fishing industry, fronted by proxies who, according to the SWAPO-affiliated lawyer, were working on behalf of the party’s interests.
One of these proxy companies was African Selection Fishing Namibia, which in January 2017 entered into a public-private joint venture as a majority shareholder with the state-owned fishing company Fishcor, whose chairman at the time was Hatuikulipi.
The joint venture, proposed by Hatuikulipi and Shanghala, and called Seaflower Pelagic Processing, included plans to build a fish processing factory for Fishcor.
Fishcor bought the land intended for the proposed factory from Etale Properties – whose shareholders include Curzola Island Investments – for 160 million Namibian dollars ($13m).
This figure appeared to be twice what Curzola Island Investments’ director had paid for the same plot of land two years earlier.
Just as the public-private joint venture was set up, Esau granted Fishcor a highly lucrative 15-year contract worth $637m to catch 50,000 tonnes of horse mackerel per year – a contract illegally awarded without a competitive bidding process.
The government agreed to subsidise any potential losses incurred from failing to catch the whole quota allocated to it, thereby allowing the joint venture to seize additional millions of dollars in public funds, which were then transferred into accounts run by SWAPO-controlled companies. In August 2018, this provision allowed African Selection Fishing Namibia to claim a government subsidy close to $42m.
The OCCRP/Namibian investigation also implicates the personal lawyer of Geingob, Sisa Namandje. The Namibian Financial Intelligence Centre has documented at least 90 million Namibian dollars ($6.1m) that was transited through the trust accounts of Namandje’s law firm from 2012 until 2019.
In August 2017, 2.5 million Namibian dollars ($185,000) was deposited into Namandje’s law firm’s trust account. According to an affidavit made by Namandje to Namibia’s Anti-Corruption Commission, the money was intended “as a donation for SWAPO’s 2017 Congress activities”.
Al Jazeera’s investigation Anatomy of a Bribe had already identified transfers worth a further $17.5 million Namibian dollars ($1.5m), which was paid from Fishcor to Namandje’s law firm’s accounts. According to an investigator from Namibia’s Anti-Corruption Commission, this money was then paid into accounts linked to the SWAPO party.
Namandje has repeatedly denied any involvement in money laundering. Hatuikulipi, Shangala and Esau are in jail awaiting trial on charges of money laundering and corruption. All deny wrongdoing.