Icelandic fishing company Sildarvinnslan is rejecting claims CEO Gunnthor Ingvason sought the help of Samherji as part of an attempt to secure valuable fishing quotas from authorities in Greenland, the website of Icelandic state broadcaster RUV reports, citing Icelandic news site Frettabladid.
Sildarvinnslan has denied the allegations, and said the report comes from a misreading of the emails.
“This news is totally wrong and it is actually remarkable how a journalist could read this into the emails that are referred to,” the company wrote to RUV and later in a statement sent to IntraFish, citing Frettabladid's reading of Wikileaks email exchanges.
Ingvason is alleged to have made the request on behalf of his company’s partner in Greenland, Polar Seafood, the country's largest private seafood company.*
In the statement, Sildarvinnslan said multiple aspects of the Frettabladid story were inaccurate.
Polar Seafood and Sildarvinnslan established a joint venture, Polar Pelagic, in 2003. Polar Seafood owned the majority of the company, while Sildarvinnslan owned 30 percent.
The companies said Ingvason contacted Polar Seafood Chairman Henrik Leth, whose email exchanges were cited in the story, in 2014 to ask about reports that a company was considering setting up a fishmeal and pelagic processing plant in Ammasalik, on Greenland's East Coast.
"[Leth] considered these plans very unrealistic and thought that they were being put forward with a view to obtaining a quota from the government of Greenland," Sildarvinnslan wrote in the statement.
"To find out more about technical issues and constructions costs, he contacted Gunnthor Ingvason. Gunnthor knew that Samherji had recently made plans for such a structure in Morocco. He e-mailed employees at Samherji asking for this information, even though it was relevant to the development in Africa. After sending this e-mail he made no further enquires (sic) about the matter."
Leth also strongly denied the accusations.
“I contacted Gunnthor for information simply because Sildarvinnslan has a great deal of experience and knowledge of the construction and operation of processing plants. I could never have imagined that such a negative news story could be made about a favour he made to me, a colleague. This is a sad example of poor and dishonest journalism.”
Sildarvinnslan added that "it can be clear that Gunnthor Ingvason's words in the email were distorted and taken out of context in the news story."
The cash-for-quotas scandal shows no sign of running out of steam, having already led to the temporary stepping aside of Samherji CEO Thorsteinn Mar Baldvinsson and the resignations of two Namibian cabinet ministers, as well as the managing director of South Africa-based investment firm Investec Asset Management.
Events have also swept up Norwegian state bank DNB, in what is being billed as the biggest laundering scandal ever to hit a bank in Norway.
The scandal prompted Icelandic Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir to call for swift action by regulators to dig into the allegations the company dealt out bribes in exchange for access to Namibian fish harvesting rights and that "no stone should be left unturned" in the investigation.
Samherji would have hoped to have contained the scandal, but instead as the press digs deeper, further allegations appear to be unfolding, amid concern about Iceland's reputation abroad, given its dependence on the fisheries sector.
*Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Samherji holds a controlling stake in Polar Seafood.