One of the lawyers representing businessmen and former Cabinet ministers charged with corruption, fraud and money laundering in the multi-million fisheries bribery case, yesterday claimed politics was behind their continued incarceration.
“I am not saying there is political motivation in this matter but the arrest timeline and now the application for a longer postponement are too coincidental. The accused were arrested days before the elections last year and now the State is asking for a postponement two months before another election,” argued Trevor Brokerhoff, defence lawyer for Ricardo Gustavo.
Former ministers Bernhard Esau and Sacky Shanghala, Tamson ‘Fitty’ Hatuikulipi, Gustavo, James Hatuikulipi and Pius Mwatelulo were arrested on the eve of the 2019 presidential elections, following reports that an Icelandic fishing company, Samherji, reportedly secured access to horse mackerel quotas in Namibia by paying bribes of around N$130 million to politicians and businessmen between 2012 and 2018.
Another accused in the ongoing scandal and former Fishcor CEO Mike Nghipunya was arrested after the November elections.
Brokerhoff, who was arguing against the State’s application to have the cases postponed again, also questioned the narrative being pushed by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) and the State following the testimony of chief investigator Andreas Kanyangela. During his testimony, Kanyangela informed the court that the ACC has made tremendous progress investigating the main case, which is known as the Nengomar matter in the judicial system. Furthermore, they have already concluded their investigations in the Fishcor case. But the ACC needed more time to wrap up investigations in the Nengomar case.
Kanyangela, however, could not give the court the amount of time needed to conclude investigations in the Nengomar matter.
The defence team, which further consists of Florian Beukes, Tinashe Chibwana, Milton Engelbrecht and Gilroy Kasper, were all in agreement that another postponement would further prejudice their clients who have been in police custody for nearly 10 months.
It was their argument that the State rushed to arrest and detain the accused without completing their investigations. They argued that their clients have lost their livelihoods, income and have been separated from their families.
Furthermore, they have already been found guilty on social media due to the public’s interest in the case and wide media coverage.
They instead want the court to dismiss the State’s application or have the matter provisionally struck from the court roll and once investigations have been concluded the accused can be re-summoned.
They also want the court to consider releasing the accused on bail with conditions attached.
Deputy prosecutor general Cliff Lutibezi brought an application last week to have the court postpone the Nengomar case for further investigations. He further sought an order to postpone the Fishcor case for the prosecutor general to pronounce herself in the matter.
He argued that the defence have no legal basis to oppose the application, since the Fishcor case would have to go through the prosecutor general for a decision on whether the accused will stand trial or not.
Lutibezi asked the court to consider the complexity of the Nengomar case when making a ruling.
“We are dealing with seven accused persons and the investigators have to analyse financial records of all of them, their close cooperations and other several entities that are involved in the matter. Let us also not forget that this is a cross-border case,” said Lutibezi.
The State further noted that it would suffer great prejudice should the court dismiss its application. They fear that the accused will interfere with ongoing investigations if their case is struck from the roll and they are released.
Magistrate Vanessa Stanley is scheduled give a ruling on the remand application on Monday.