While the people of Reykjavik and their visitors celebrated Culture Night and the Reykjavík Marathon in August 2014, an equally marathon meeting on the 13th floor of Höfðatorg resulted in an agreement.
In November of 2013 Sacky Shanghala presented Samherji with an idea of a shortcut towards new quotas off the coasts of Africa. This shortcut involved getting the ministers of fisheries for neighbouring Angola and Namibia to make an international quota exchange deal.
The agreement would assume that a joint Namibian and Angolan venture would enjoy the benefits of the agreement. However, this venture would only be pro forma, so that the locals would receive the quota, which would then go directly to Samherji, guaranteeing a quota of 10 thousand tons a year for many years to come.
In November of 2013 Samherji invited five people from Angola and Namibia to Iceland. A photo shows Þorsteinn Már posing at Hafnarfjörður harbour next to James and Sacky, an advisor to the Angolan minister of fisheries, as well as the Angolan minister’s son, and the Namibian minister’s son-in-law.
The importance of the visit was described by James Hatuikulipi, who referred to “the strategy we put in place in the Samherji boardroom.”
“There is serious political capital at play, and i trust you appreciate that. This strategy has the ability to grant our partnership a fishing right to exploit marine resources in Namibia, at a time when applications could otherwise not be entertained.”
Sacky and the Angolan minister’s advisor did everything but sign the international deal. They prepared the document and sent a unanimous letter of recommendation to the ministers, granting Samherji their vote of confidence.
James described this in an email to Samherji: “[W]e have both Ministers in Angola and Namibia working to ensure we gain access to these fishing grounds […] the Ministers have mobilized State machinery to ensure that the Cooperation Agreement is in place.”
The contract for Samherji
Jóhannes, who attended the meeting along with the sharks and Þorsteinn Már on Katrínartún street in Reykjavík, says the purpose of the agreement was clear.
“And an international agreement was made, under false pretences, to enable the sharks to get their hands on quotas they could sell to Samherji for their personal profit. And they had to involve people from Angola as well, such as the fisheries minister and other people, who received a share of the spoils as well,” Jóhannes says.
“In order to confirm such an international agreement, they had to line many pockets, and there must be enormous political support. It must go through the government, of course. 50 million ISK was deposited into Tamson’s account. The senior parties helping them get the issue through had to be paid, the most senior figures in the country as I understood it. My understanding was that it was the president and the people around him.”
Jóhannes says everything happened with the knowledge of Þorsteinn Már, the CEO. “All payments, such as the 50 million ISK, were made after consulting with him. I didn’t do anything without his involvement.”
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This payment went from Samherji to yet another company owned by the son-in-law, who in turn issued a consultancy invoice. At the same time, Tamson and his partners reminded the parties involved that they were not Samherji’s assistants in the deal, but direct participants.
“We have created this opportunity for Samherji Group as partners and expect to be treated as such,” an email from James Hatuikulip sent to the representatives of Samherji later stated. And they celebrated accordingly once the quota was secured.
For that reason, a meeting was announced shortly before Reykjavík Culture Night, 2014, to divide the proceeds of the international agreement, which would be much greater than before. Now the sharks wanted Samherji to pay them three quarters of the price of the quota offshore. A quarter would go to the Namibian company which had been allocated the quota before selling it on to Samherji.
Sacky emphasised their success in a slide presentation he brought to Iceland and which had Þorsteinn Már’s name on it.
“We need to ensure that in Angola and Namibia, even if ministers change, there will be no need to touch the agreement […] The opportunity we have in Angola and Namibia is not available to everyone and before everyone wakes up, we need to get moving. That way we will best protect both ministers.”
“There had been all sorts of thoughts on how the sharks would get paid for the Angola-Namibia deal. In the first part of 2014 James asked us to support him and others going to Dubai in order to start a company there. They wanted to hide the money in Dubai and at this meeting Þorsteinn Már decided it would be best to pay the 75% to Dubai from Samherji’s company in Cyprus, Esja Seafood. James alone was registered for the company. He was the front. The purpose of the company was simply receiving money and distributing it to others,” Jóhannes says.
“This was the minister of fisheries. There was talk of other senior figures in Namibia. There was Sacky, the minister of justice, Tamson, the son-in-law, as well as the Angolan minister of fisheries, her son and her advisor. And you always tried keeping a certain distance between the politicians.”
Only a few days after the meeting in Reykjavík, payments were received in Dubai. There was such a hurry to make the payment that no invoice was issued for the first $150,000 paid by Ingvar Júlíusson on behalf of Samherji.
When an invoice was being prepared later, James did not seem to know the reason for Samherji’s payment, what he was charging for. Jóhannes forwarded that speculation to Ingvar: “Isn’t it just a consulting fee?”
During the past few years, tens of millions of ISK from Samherji’s companies in Cyprus have systematically been paid to the Dubai offshore company through 15 transfers, the most recent one in early 2019.
The total amount paid by Samherji is half a billion ISK. The total payments of Samherji’s companies to shell companies owned by the so-called sharks amount to 1.4 billion ISK over the past five years, according to figures accessible to Kveikur. The payments are usually invoiced as consulting fees or rent, and sometimes both.
“What’s really curious is who exactly Samherji pays for that quota to an offshore trust, controlled by James, who is none other than the chairman of Fishcor, and one of the three sharks, that are acting as intermediaries in the deal. That already raises huge danger signs of corruption,“ says Daniel Balint-Kurti, senior investigator at Global Witness.
"Looking at the evidence, especially them calling Esau a shareholder in the venture, and using as intermediaries the fishing minister’s own son-in-law, when one looks at that and one looks at the payments going into these offshore vehicles, including money going into the, the, the pockets of the actual chairman of the State owned fishing company: this looks extremely corrupt and it looks like Samherji knew what was going on from day one, that they were planning it as a basically a corrupt deal from the outset. This all very much looks like bribery," he says.
Bribery is illegal according to both Icelandic and Namibian law.
Iceland has a law modelled on OECD specifications on bribery in international trade. That agreement was made in reaction to multinationals repeatedly using their superior power, by way of capital, to obtain the natural resources of developing countries, countries that at the same time were accepting development aid from the governments of the corporations' home countries.
It can result in five years' imprisonment if an Icelandic citizen bribes or attempts to bribe a representative of a foreign state, a politician, an official or a representative of a state-owned company. The same punishment goes for bribing or attempting to bribe anyone who claims to be able to influence a representative of a foreign country.
Jóhannes believes the activities of Samherji in Namibia have not remained within the frame of the law. "I am absolutely certain that we did not operate in accordance with this law. Looking back, we violated the law, clearly.”