Two former Namibian government officials with ties to the so-called "Fishrot" scandal are now prohibited from entering the United States, the US State Department announced Tuesday.
Former Namibian Fisheries and Marine Resources Minister Bernard Esau and Justice Minister Sacky Shanghala "were involved in corrupt acts that undermined rule of law and the Namibian public’s faith in their government’s democratic institutions and public processes, including by using their political influence and official power for their personal benefit," the State Department said.
Esau and Shanghala both resigned from their positions in late 2019 amid a probe into a cash-for-quotas corruption case against the company.
The case, which was transferred to Namibia’s High Court in December, stems from allegations in November 2019 made by the former managing director at Samherji's Namibian affiliates, Johannes Stefansson, suggesting Samherji bribed Namibian officials in exchange for lucrative pelagic fishing quotas in the country’s waters.
Stefansson alleged in an interview with Al Jazeera that when it became clear former Namibian Fisheries and Marine Resources Minister Bernard Esau was seeking an under-the-table payment of $60,000 (€50,000) to secure quotas, a Samherji official told him to move forward.
"If the minister of fisheries wants to get bribes, you pay him bribes," Stefansson said he was told. "So I gave him a sports bag full of cash."
The case gained higher profile when website Wikileaks posted thousands of emails and documents on a page it dubbed "Fishrot," which purported to show evidence of wrongdoing.
In an affidavit filed as part of the case earlier this month, Samherji CEO Thorsteinn Mar Baldvinsson, who recently returned to the CEO post after recusing himself during a third-party investigation of the company's dealings in Nambia, "vehemently" denied any involvement "in the alleged corrupt scheme or any unlawful activity in Namibia or relating to Namibia.”
“[These allegations are] vexatious and frivolous,” said Baldvinsson. “Not a single document is attached, not a single sentence or word that I may allegedly have used is quoted to support such wild and farfetched conclusions."
In addition to Esau and Shanghala, Esau’s wife, Swamma Esau, and his son, Philippus Esau, are also prohibited from entering the United States.
This ban on the Namibian officials entry is part of the US commitment to supporting anticorruption reforms that are seen as key to Namibia’s successful future.
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