The accused in the Fishrot scandal will make their way to the High Court tomorrow for a pre-trial conference, which sets the stage for a long battle between the high-profile suspects and the country’s legal system.
The case, which involves former Cabinet ministers and local businessmen, will be a long-drawn-out court battle, according to the prediction of local legal commentators. During the pre-trial, the court is expected to decide if the matter is ready for trial and which judge will be appointed to preside over the case.
Legal commentator Natjirikasorua Tjirera explained that during the pre-trial conference, the accused’s lawyers are given the opportunity to reply to the pre-trial memorandum – and it would be determinative of how long the case will take.
He added it is during such appearances where several issues are ironed out before the actual trial hearing begins.
Depending on the volume of the docket, the judge will postpone the matter for a month or two for the lawyers to prepare for the trial.
“But the trial will take a significant amount of time because in the court of law, unlike the court of public opinion, you will have to prove every single allegation beyond a reasonable doubt against an accused person,” explained Tjirera.
Despite the prominence of the case and an overload of cases in the criminal courts, Tjirera asserted the country has some of the finest legal minds when it comes to criminal justice and they are more than capable of dealing with the case.
Another commentator Steven Ndorokaze agreed the trial will take a few years before it is concluded.
“I think we are going to be at this for a number of years to come. I foresee several applications for this or that matter. I also foresee some of the accused persons being granted bail in the coming months,” noted Ndorokaze.
Ndorokaze said the principle of innocent until proven guilty is real within the Namibian jurisdiction; therefore, accused persons cannot be denied bail indefinitely as some form of punishment.
“When investigations are done, all witness statements taken, accused are not a flight risk and the interest of justice will not be compromised, it would be difficult to keep the accused behind bars,” explained Ndorokaze.
Lawyer Nafimane Halweendo noted prosecution is likely to face some difficulty in presenting evidence, bearing in mind that the transactions are said to have taken place between different persons in different countries and legal jurisdictions.
The availability of witnesses, as well as admissible documentary evidence from foreign jurisdictions, will be a hurdle that prosecution will have to cross if they are to succeed in proving their case against the accused persons involved, said Halweendo.
“It will, however, increase the public’s confidence in the transparency of the judicial process and help them have an improved understanding of the case as it unfolds if the courts are to allow a public television of the court hearings as the case unfolds,” he said.
The prosecutor general decided to prosecute former ministers Sacky Shanghala and Bernhard Esau, James Hatuikulipi, Tamson Hatuikulipi, Phillipus Mwapopi, Otneel Shuudifonya, Pius Mwatelulo, Mike Nghipunya, Ricardo Gustavo and South African-based lawyer Marèn de Klerk.
They are all facing counts of fraud, bribery, corruptly using office for gratification, money laundering and conspiring to commit corruption.
Some of them are accused of acting in common purpose with the intent to defraud the Namibian government by signing a bilateral agreement purporting to be in the interest of Namibia but instead entered into the said agreement for their benefit.
The prosecution is further alleging some of the accused received more than N$103 million in bribes from an Icelandic fishing company, Samherji, for the continuous supply of horse mackerel quotas in Namibia.
In addition, the prosecution is charging suspects for defrauding the Ministry of Finance when they made misrepresentations to the Directorate of Inland Revenue that Namgomar Pesca Namibia generated revenue of N$14.1 million from 2014 to 2019, whereas the company generated revenue of N$40.1 million.
The group, along with former Fishcor CEO Nghipunya, are also facing fraud charges relating to N$75.6 million, allegedly channelled from the State-owned company to several law firms and entities for their benefit.
All accused, except for De Klerk, are currently in police custody after attempts to have them released on bail have thus far failed.
It is unclear if De Klerk, who has been living in neighbouring South Africa over the past year, will be standing alongside his co-accused tomorrow in court.
This week, justice minister Yvone Dausab informed New Era that the status of De Klerk’s extradition has not changed, as the ministry is still waiting on relevant documents from the prosecutor general’s office.
Contacted for comment, prosecutor general Martha Imalwa said she was not in the position to comment, as the matter is currently before court.