Disgraced former fisheries minister Bernhardt Esau wants the government to pay his legal fees in the ongoing Fishrot case in which the country’s fisheries resources are said to have been looted at an industrial scale.
The demand was laid bare yesterday when the Fishrot accused made a routine appearance before Windhoek High Court acting judge Kobus Miller.
When it was pointed out by Milton Engelbrecht that Esau had no legal representation after his lawyers, Florian Beukes and Richard Metcalfe, withdrew because of a lack of payment, Esau was adamant that government should pay for his legal fees because he represented government in his role as fisheries minister.
Engelbrecht has received instructions from
Legal Aid to represent Otneel Shuudifonya and Phillipus Mwapopi, two of Esau’s co-accused in the Fishrot matter.
Sporting an afro hairstyle and a beard, Esau told the judge that in his view, it is the responsibility of the government to provide him with legal representation, as he was a member of the legislature during the period, and that Cabinet approved the decisions he made. Esau made the same claims during the early stages of the trial but was shot down by Attorney General Festus Mbandeka, who said his office is there to provide legal services to government agencies in cases of civil litigation and not for criminal cases.
Contacted yesterday for a fresh comment in the wake of Esau’s renewed push to have taxpayers foot his legal bill, his phone went unanswered.
The government’s chief legal brain did also not respond to questions sent to him on WhatsApp.
Yesterday, it was also revealed that former minister of justice, Sacky Shanghala and his friend and business partner, James Hatuikulipi, lodged an application for Miller to be removed from the case because of his age.
The Namibian Constitution stipulates that a sitting judge may not be over the age of 70.
According to the duo, they are afraid that Miller will not see the trial through to the end.
What is more, a petition they lodged after Ricardo Gustavo’s appeal to have Miller recuse himself from the case for perceived bias was already shot down by the Supreme Court. It was further revealed yesterday that Gustavo is still hospitalised and receiving oxygen for an undisclosed illness.
Miller postponed the matter to 20 September for a status hearing on the application for the lawyers to be paid from the accused’s assets and remanded the accused in custody at the section or trial awaiting inmates at the Windhoek Correctional Facility.
Miller will pronounce himself on the application for his removal on the basis of age on 9 September.
Gustavo, Esau, Shanghala, James Hatuikulipi, Tamson Hatuikulipi, Pius Mwatelulo, Nigel van Wyk, Shuudifonya and Mwapopi are charged with corruptly receiving payments of at least N$103.6 million to give a competitive advantage to Icelandic fishing giant Samherji in securing access to horse mackerel quotas in Namibia.
They are facing more than 40 counts, comprising racketeering, contravening the Anti-Corruption Act, conspiracy, corruptly using public office to receive gratification, fraud, theft and money laundering, as well as defeating or obstructing the course of justice.
Also on the list of people to be added to the charges is lawyer Marén de Klerk, who is charged as a representative of Celax Investments, which was allegedly used as the conduit to funnel millions of dollars from Fishcor to the bank accounts of the accused.
The State is yet to extradite De Klerk from South Africa, as well as Icelandic nationals Egill Helgi Arnason, Ingvar Juliusson and Helgason Adelsteinn.