Whistleblower Johannes Stefansson, the former CEO of Samherji's operations in Namibia, says he has faced threats for the past three years from "sharks" involved in Namibia's cash-for- quotas scandal, leaving him constantly on guard.

The threats, he says, are from the Namibian elite that handled and oversaw the allocation of fishing quotas. They became Samherji's most important partners, he said.

Stefansson did not go into detail but confirmed he has received threatening phone calls. He does not know who the threats are from, but he sees some of the messages coming from Namibia.

The lowdown on Samherji

Samherji was originally established in Grindavik in Iceland around 1972.

It was acquired in partnership by Thorsteinn Mar Baldvinsson and his business partners and cousins, the brothers Kristjan Vilhelmsson and Thorsteinn Vilhelmsson in Akureyri in 1983.

The company took receipt of its first self financed trawler, "Baldvin Thorsteinsson" in 1993.

A year later it established Framherji in the Faroe Islands in which it has a 45 percent stake and took possession of its first herring boat in 1995.

In 2002 Samherji took a 45 percent stake in Sildarvinnslan, Iceland's largest pelagic fishing company.

In 2003, it acquired shares in the fish farming company Fjord Seafood in Norway and then in 2004 bought up all the shares in Germany's Deutsche Fischfang Union.

Samherji later acquired companies and shares in fishing companies in several other countries, including Norway.

In Iceland, Samherji has stakes in 16 different companies, including seven its fully controls along five it owns together with Sildarvinnslan.

In an Al Jazeera TV interview, he offers insight into life under these threats, saying he inexplicably became ill from something that could be similar to poisoning.

Stefansson began working for Icelandic fishing company Samherji in 2007. From 2011 until he left in 2016, he led Samherji's operations in Namibia. The former Samherji executive said he was responsible for sending money from Namibia to the company's subsidiaries in Cyprus via an account in a Norwegian bank.

After leaking more than 30,000 documents to Wikileaks, he is staying at an address known only to those closest to him. Documents allegedly show that Namibian top politicians received corrupt payments from Samherji. In addition to these documents, Stefansson says he is also sitting on information about how money was moved through Norwegian bank DNB's systems.

He told IntraFish sister publication Dagens Naeringsliv he sent money from Namibia to the Cyprus based Esja Seafood via the bank account in Norway, adding that he is talking about several companies belonging to Samherji. These companies were paid large sums of money, including those from him working on Samherji's behalf.

In 2010, Namibian authorities announced new seven-year quota rights to companies using them in joint venture cooperation with Namibian companies. This quota system was on the advice of Norway and Iceland, which since 1990 assisted Namibia in developing its fisheries management system.

Samherji's operations in Namibia began in 2011. New quotas were allocated at the end of that year and expired in 2012 but were renewed through 2018, when the Namibian authorities extended the quotas by another three years to 2021. Those who decided who and what quotas the companies should receive are those he calls the "sharks" in Namibian fisheries management.

Political elite

Heading Samherji in Namibia, it was impossible to navigate the system to obtain quotas without having to go through the "sharks" if we wanted quotas, Stefansson said.

Samherji initially was awarded a smaller quota in 2012 and it was two years before it could obtain an increase.

A bilateral agreement with Angola opened up an opportunity to exchange quotas between countries. "We got quotas in both Angola and Namibia", he said.

Namibia's state-owned fishing company Fishcor became an important partner. Under the terms of its establishment in 1991 when Namibia gained its independence from South Africa in 1991, Fishcor was to permitted to enter into cooperation agreements with foreign fisheries companies to harvest fish in its own waters.

Valuable quotas

"We had contact with the chairman of Fishcor, and eventually got most of the quotas from this company," Stefansson points out.

Samherji operated trawlers in Namibian waters during these years. The first year, in 2014, they received 12,000 metric tons of horse mackerel. The following year it increased to 23,000 metric tons. In 2016, Stefansson quit Samherji mid-year, but he believes the company gained between 55,000 and 60,000 tons that year.

This probably increased to 80,000 tons in 2017 and 100,000 metric tons in 2018, Stefansson said, calculating that the company received between 500,000 and 600,000 tons of fish, worth $500 million (€451 million) from operations in Namibia from 2012 to 2019.

Two freezer trawlers Samherji used to fish in Namibia were able to load 2,200 tons of fish, which they transferred to transport ships off Walvis Bay in Namibia. As a result, Samherji settled for the fish immediately after the transhipment.

"Between 80 and 90 percent of the fish are transhipped to such ships, while the rest are landed in freezer warehouses and transported by trucks from there," said Stefansson, adding that during his time about half was landed ashore because processing in Namibia was not financially attractive.

Stefansson says he is unfamiliar with the business that Samherji has in Norway, through its ownership in Nergard. But gaining access to the Norwegian fishing and fishing industry was a long-term goal for Samherji, he said he believes.

"Samherji is suspected of using money from Namibia's business to invest in Europe, the US and Canada They will not invest in African countries," he said, pointing out that he is working with the Namibian eco-crime unit to uncover where the cash flow has gone from Namibia.

"I have been collaborating with Namibian investigations since August 2018. I have also assisted the prosecutor's office in Iceland," he said, adding that he will also make himself available to the Norwegian authorities.

Stefansson says it took time before he realized what Samherji was doing and what he was doing in Namibia.

"I knew I was doing something wrong, but was told that "we do a lot of good for Namibia," he says, pointing out that Samherji is a large and important company in Iceland, where there were good career opportunities," he said

"I did what they wanted me to do", and says he is glad that the "sharks" in Namibia are in custody.

By Nov. 28, six people were in police custody in Namibia, following the arrests of former Fisheries Minister Bernhard Esau, as well as Tamson "Fitty" Hatuikulipi and Pius "Taxa" Mwatelulo, who are both related to former Investec Asset Management Namibia Managing Director James Hatuikulipi.

Stefansson also understands that he faces the prospect of a prison sentence, but says he could not live on with the knowledge of what he had been involved in in Namibia.

Fiskeribladet sent the interview with Stefansson to Samherji for comment. The company has previously referred journalists to a press statement.

The company initially tried to distance itself from the scandal in the press statement that contained comments from Thorsteinn Mar Baldvinsson, CEO of Samherji, who has stepped aside while an investigation into the cash-for-quotas scandal is conducted with the assistance of Norwegian and international law firm Wikborg Rein.

In the statement the company said it was very disappointed to hear that Stefansson,“appears to have been involved in questionable business practices and possibly entangled Samherji in activities that may be illegal."

As the scandal has grown Samherji has appointed as interim CEO Bjorgolfur Johannsson and a former senior Glitnir Bank executive to handle public relations.

Samherji, which employs thousands of people globally, also sent out a statement in which it stressed its responsibility to employees, customers and other stakeholders.

"We are committed to fair and honest business, and we will always strive to act in accordance with current laws and regulations," the company said.

Fast Facts: How the Samherji scandal began

Icelandic group Samherji, one of the world's largest seafood companies, is at the center of a cash-for-quota scandal, beginning with bribery allegations made by former managing director in Namibia, Johannes Stefansson.

Stefansson is now working with Namibian anti-corruption authorities on an investigation, alleging that he made bribe payments to officials on the authorization of Samherji CEO Thorsteinn Mar Baldvinsson.

WikiLeaks published more than over 30,000 documents -- the first of two batches it said it obtained from a whistleblower.

The fallout has been swift, and devastating to the reputation of both Samherji, affiliated companies, the country of Iceland, and banks involved in the financing of the group.