Fishrot: Iceland, EU slammed for failing to prosecute suspects in Namibia corruption scandal

Fishrot: Iceland, EU slammed for failing to prosecute suspects in Namibia corruption scandal

The European Union has been slammed for its inability to act against Samherji, Iceland’s largest fishing company, following its involvement in one of Africa’s biggest scandals, as it has exposed the hollowness of its self-declared fight against corruption.

The financial scandal — named after a 2019 Wikileaks release called the “Fishrot Files” — stretches from Namibia to Iceland, taking in government ministers and involving at least $20m. Samherji was accused of illegitimate trawling in Namibia’s waters, for which the Iceland-based company 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. Unlike Namibia that has apprehended and prosecuted the accused, Iceland has so far failed to even frame charges against those implicated in the scam.

“In Iceland, no formal charges have been laid against Icelandic suspects,” says a joint statement issued by Namibia’s Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) and Transparency International Iceland. “Instead, Icelandic police are investigating journalists reporting on Samherji, undermining press freedom and anti-corruption efforts. Drago Kos, chair of the OECD Working Group on Bribery in International Business Transactions, has called the Icelandic response to Fishrot “almost embarrassing”, especially in the face of the EU’s self-proclaimed tough stance against corruption and illegal and unregulated fishing.

With nearly 1,600km of South Atlantic coastline, fishing is one of Namibia’s main industries, contributing 3% to the desert country’s GDP and accounting for about 20% of export earnings. The Fishrot scam was uncovered 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, left the country in 2020. A year later, it absolved itself of all allegations. As for Iceland, not only has the reputation of one of its most important companies been tarnished, but also the image of the entire country has been battered as it has slipped in the international corruption index over the past years.


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