For the past ten years, Samherji has managed to acquire fishing rights worth tens of billions of ISK and made huge profits in Namibia. These profits have come to Iceland instead of to the Namibian community.
As an example, the value of Samherji's catch in Namibia was claimed to be close to six billion ISK in company data from 2015. Figures for other years are not available but Samherji's fishing rights clearly increased even more.
At the beginning there were two goals: get quotas and get the profits out of the country: "A challenge to get away with as much profit as possible, with the earnings tax being 33%. (There are many ways: a charter agreement, potential management agreement, sales agreement etc.)"
At the same time, Samherji's CEO was drawing a totally different picture of the company's way of doing business.
On RÚV’s Kastljós programme around six months after the above email was sent, he said: “We are running businesses where there are civilised societies. You cannot remove money from these businesses unless as dividend payments.”
Jóhannes says, however, that Samherji started looking for ways to move profit out of the country as soon as it started operating in Namibia in 2012.
“As soon as we started activities down there in early 2012 the work got started; massive efforts by Ingvar Júlíusson from Samherji and others, just to find some ways. They were doing everything they possibly could to avoid paying taxes in Namibia. There were orders from Aðalsteinn and Þorsteinn, they were not going to pay taxes there. I understand that until 2019 they paid hardly any taxes,” Jóhannes says.
All the efforts were geared towards moving capital to countries were taxes were low or non-existent, using various deals with Samherji's locally-registered companies.
This complex in-house trading was managed by Ingvar Júlíusson, Samherji's chief accountant and executive of many companies owned by Samherji and located far from any fishing grounds and fish markets.
Cyprus: the centre of operations
The island of Cyprus has an extensive fish market and it is home to tens of billions of ISK inassets held in ten companies owned by Samherji. All the companies have the same address. In Cyprus there is no Samherjifishing company, however. No employees, and no fish ever comes there.
Nevertheless, Cyprus plays a big role in Samherji's Namibian fishing activities.
The ships fishing there are leased from Cyprus. The catch they bring in is sold by another Cypriot company, although most of it is sold to Congo[AE1] . The Namibian fishing company has also paid loan instalments and other service fees to Cyprus.
All these dealings are between vehicles owned by a single company: Samherji.
The route of ownership from Iceland to Namibia is no less complex. From the owners, through two Icelandic ventures, to Cyprus, through another two companies there, and finally to Africa.Not Namibia, however, but to the middle of the Indian Ocean, to the island of Mauritius.
From appearances one might expect that Samherji had extensive activities in that country.
„It was very convenient for Samherji to start a company in Mauritius because Mauritius and Namibia have a double taxation treaty which means it is inexpensive to get capital out. Samherji does not have a single employee in Mauritius. This is just one way to evade tax,“ Jóhannes says.
Ingvar Júlíusson and Bernhard Bogason, lawyer and tax expert, openly claim, in emails from 2014, that the objective of starting the branch in Mauritius is simple: to get earnings from Namibia to Cyprus as inexpensively as possible.
Moving the capital directly from Namibia to Cyprus would have meant tax payments. Moving it first to Mauritius and then to Cyprus meant that they could minimise, or even totally avoid, paying taxes. Taking it for a spin, as Ingvar described it.
Intellectual property agreements were the way. As stated before, Samherji had made deals with its own companies in Namibia for paying what was called: "Know-how, management experience, management team including staff, sales people, directors and others and for the use of the Samherji brand."
All these services were now said to be offered through Samherji's branch in Mauritius. Samherji's fishing companies in Namibia now paid 5% of their total income in Namibia to Mauritius.
This method is well-known and has been criticised for abusing the countries' double taxation treaty.
Banking link in Norway
To complicate things even further, the majority of bank activities go through another country: Norway, and its state-owned bank, DNB.
All the money that seems to flow through Cyprus, from Africa to Europe and the other way around, never actually reaches the Mediterranean island nation. It is in Norway. These Norwegian bank accounts are actually the lifeblood of the activity. A compost heap of profits from Samherji's fishing worldwide. From these accounts, Samherji's money goes to Dubai.
There are fifteen transfers to Dubai from these Norwegian accounts of Samherji's companies Esja Seafood and Noa Pelagic in Cyprus. According to Kveikur's sources, an examination of the Dubai company reveals that its only income is from the deposits from Samherji.
Samherji's banking activities at DNB have been noted by the bank's employees. Samherji's dealings with DNB are still ongoing, however. Earlier this year Samherji's subsidiary, Noa Pelagic, transferred US dollars worth ISK 5 million to Tundavala in Dubai.
The goal is clear
Last summer, Tax Justice Network named Mauritius and Dubai as the two tax havens most damaging to African states. Massive profits from resources go there every year, evading taxation. Mauritius offers two things: low to no taxes and total secrecy.
Alvin Mosioma, director of Tax justice network Africa, has seen the WikiLeaks files.
“Samherji went to Namibia to pursue two distinct strategies. One is to use bribery and corruption, to be able to expand its influence and gain access to quotas in, ah, in the fishing quotas in Namibia, which it, it did, shamelessly. And secondly, to structure itself in a manner that it’s able to pay as little tax, ah, to the Namibian err, err, State as possible. And this it equally did without shame in terms of setting up subsidiaries in, in these two, two specific tax havens,” he says.
“What recent studies show is that the African continent loses up to fifty billion dollars annually as a result of illicit financial flaws and is largely as resulting from tax evasion, and tax avoidance of, ah, multinational companies. And what we see in Namibia is just an example of how resources that are owned and should be owned by African countries, are being siphoned out through um – a force of well-connected business elites and corrupt politicians who gang together.”