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Namibia/Iceland: PPLAAF Stands by “Fishrot” Whistleblower

Icelandic Citizen’s Disclosures on Fishing Deals Trigger Prosecutions

(Paris, January 31st, 2020) – By blowing the whistle, Johannes Stefansson shows that where transnational corruption occurs, whistleblower protection should cross borders, said the Platform to Protect Whistleblowers (PPLAAF) today. The Icelandic whistleblower’s disclosures show how his former fishing company Samherji paid millions of dollars through tax heavens such as Cyprus and the Marshall Islands to bribe high level officials in Namibia, in exchange for trawling rights.

Johannes Stefansson, a former Samherji manager, disclosed to Wikileaks over 30,000 documents including emails, memos, invoices and other key documents in a scandal that resulted in the resignation of several Namibian officials, including Minister of Fisheries Bernhard Esau and the Minister of Justice Sacky Shanghala. Both former ministers have been with corruption, fraud and money laundering by the Namibian authorities. Samherji’s CEO Thorsteinn Mar Baldvinsson has also been suspended.

As written by Al Jazeera, “the leaked documents show how they [Samherji] conducted their operations in Namibia with full knowledge of the prevailing corruption”.

The company also had a bilateral agreement with Angola to expand the company’s coastal reach.

With an annual turnover of $700 million, Samherji is one of the larger fishing companies in the world.

Stefansson spent years cooperating with authorities including special units of the Namibian government in what would become known as the #fishrot scandal. Supported by Wikileaks which originally published the leak and the legal expertise of former judge Eva Joly and PPLAAF, he has been steadfast despite ongoing harassment and intimidation.

The story of Johannes Stefansson is once again the one of a courageous citizen who decided to blow the whistle on illegal activities that go against international public interest”, said William Bourdon, Chairman of PPLAAF. “Unfortunately, once again it is a story where the one who bravely decided to do right has to face multiple reprisals”.

In October 2017, Namibian president Hage Geingob signed a law to protect whistleblowers. It was specifically passed by parliament to provide protection for whistleblowers in order to effectively combat corruption. However, this act has not been put into force yet.

Since the disclosure of the “Fishrot case”, Namibian authorities have launched investigation and requested legal assistance from several countries.

On January 17th, the Icelandic fishing company Samherji announced that it was withdrawing from Namibia.

PPLAAF is a non-governmental organization established in 2017 to defend whistleblowers, as well as to advocate and engage in strategic litigation on their behalf when their revelations deal with the general interest of African citizens. PPLAAF offers a full spectrum of solutions to address the different needs of whistleblowers: protected communication, free legal support in the form of advice or legal representation, ongoing assistance to protect the whistleblower in disclosing information to the public, development of legislation protecting whistleblowers, etc.

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