The legal battle for the Fishrot accused to be freed on bail has opened a can of worms after the Windhoek Magistrate’s Court was yesterday informed of the existence of over N$1 billion (US$63 million) reportedly linked to the international fishing scandal.
The offshore investment is already part of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) investigation, according to senior investigator Willem Olivier, who continued with his testimony during the bail hearing of former fisheries minister Bernhardt Esau and his son-in-law Tamson ‘Fitty’ Hatuikulipi.
Olivier testified they uncovered a bank account in Kazakhstan, central Asia, containing US$63 million, linked to an oil and gas project, where money from state-owned Fishcor was invested.
Fugitive lawyer Marén de Klerk was the only person with legal rights to the funds, according to Olivier.
De Klerk is a partner in the law firm De Klerk, Horn & Coetzee Inc. to where N$75.6 million was transferred from Fishcor from August 2014 to December 2019. De Klerk, Horn & Coetzee Inc. then used Celax Investment Number One to distribute the money to individuals and entities.
De Klerk is the sole owner of Celax Investment Number One.
Olivier testified that investigations have revealed that up to N$3 million of the N$75.6 million that Fishcor paid into De Klerk, Horn & Coetzee law firm’s account was invested in a gas and oil project involving companies in Bulgaria, Japan and Kazakhstan. Olivier explained that although they managed to obtain a statement from De Klerk through his lawyer, he failed to provide information about the substantial amount in the overseas account.
“De Klerk was untruthful about the US$63 million because we only recently uncovered this information through a witness,” said Olivier.
ACC allegedly had consultations with De Klerk’s lawyer, who then furnished them with his affidavit and several documents. Although De Klerk is a person of interest, there is currently no warrant for his arrest – but should he enter Namibia, he will be arrested, said Olivier during cross-examination from the witness stand. He testified that at the moment, they couldn’t link the Fishrot accused to the offshore money.
According to Olivier, the ACC was expecting a report from authorities in the United Arab Emirates, where large sums of money were allegedly deposited into accounts linked to Tundavala, a company owned by one of the Fishrot accused, James Hatuikulipi.
Olivier further informed the court that they have also managed to obtain a statement from local lawyer Sisa Namandje regarding more than N$17 million that was transferred to his law firm’s trust account from Fishcor.
“Mr Namandje gave an incomplete statement. His statement does not include all the answers that the Anti-Corruption Commission is looking for. He has informed us that he is currently busy consulting his lawyers regarding the payments and distributions from his account,” said Olivier when questioned by defence lawyer Richard Metcalfe, who is representing both Esau and Tamson.
Metcalfe further questioned why all the accused persons were not afforded the same courtesy or just furnishing the ACC with affidavits or statements. He accused the ACC of selective justice for having arrested Tamson and his co-accused while anti-graft agency only obtained statements from De Klerk, former Samherji employee-turned-whistleblower Jóhannes Stefánsson, Namandje, businessman Vaino Nghipondoka, Samherji’s CEO, politician Armas Amukwiyu and others linked to payments made from Fishcor.
“I am not accusing them of anything but you said that money was laundered through these law firms’ accounts but why were they not arrested and only given an opportunity to give ACC statements. Why were my clients also not given that same opportunity?” questioned Metcalfe.
Olivier maintained that it is impossible in a criminal syndicate to arrest and charge everyone implicated.
Meanwhile, Olivier further testified that the ACC was also busy investigating all suspicious payments made from Fishcor to local entities, including Swapo politicians, under the guise of “governmental objectives”.
“As far as it goes, money distributed to the Swapo party campaign. We discovered that those funds were used to pay for personal loans, buy cars, materials and pay for coordinators,” explained Olivier.
He added that money made from the dubious bilateral agreement between Namibia and the Angolan government was used to buy luxury cars and properties – all to the benefit of the accused, and it did not go to government objectives as intended.
“This money could have been utilised for drought relief, building schools or the fish consumption trust, but it all ended up in the pockets of the accused for their own personal benefit,” testified Olivier.
In June 2014, the ministries of Namibia and Angola signed an agreement of cooperation on horse mackerel fisheries.
Olivier also testified that Esau’s BE Farming received N$100 000, which was paid from Erongo Clearing Company, owned by Tamson, and who is accused of benefiting from Fishcor funds.
The court also heard that Esau’s farmhouse was renovated, with the contractor allegedly being paid a cash amount of N$600 000.
Olivier testified that materials used for the renovations were paid for in cash. The ACC investigator further told the court that Esau, while in custody, attempted to auction off more than 300 cattle between May and June this year. However, the livestock was not seized by the State.
The bail hearing continues today.