Samherji bought the fishing company Sjólaskip for ISK 12 billion in 2007. Its African activities proved lucrative for Samherji and were said to be responsible for a third of the company’s total turnover and profits during the first years.
Samherji’s profits for the past decade amount to more than 100 billion ISK.
Six trawlers were a part of the purchase, among them the gigantic trawler Heinaste. Trawlers more akin to floating factories that only dockevery two years. Until 2010 they caught hundreds of thousands of tonnes every year off the coasts of Morocco and Mauritania.
That year, conditions changed and the quota was no longer available The company had to rely on the Moroccans to assign them a quota. Jóhannes Stefánsson found himself embroiled in that project.
In spite of efforts and attempts by the president of Iceland to affect the negotiations with the Moroccans, using the president’s connections to a powerful banker in Morocco, Samherji did not get what it wanted: a catch and freeze at sea quota.
“Horse mackerel quotas are very valuable, especially for freezing at sea. It is a very simple setup. Samherji just brought their ships, fished, froze, transferred to cargo ships. Minimum effort and no investment in the country”, Jóhannes explains.
Down to Namibia
Aðalsteinn Helgason, who ranked highly within the company and held a seat on its board for years, was the manager of Samherji’s African activities, which now involved seeking quota further to the south. In addition to Jóhannes, he was assisted by Ingvar Júlíusson, Samherji’s CFO in Cyprus and Africa.
Namibia seemed the best fit. There waslots of horse mackerel, with a yearly quota of 350,000 tons.
Obtaining the sea freezing quota, for a price Samherji was willing to pay, did not prove easy. That all seems to have changed, however, in November 2011 when a young man met Aðalsteinn and Jóhannes on the roof of a five-star Hilton hotel in the middle of Windhoek, the capital of Namibia.
The young man who intended to work with the multinational fishing company had no experience in the field and brought nothing to the table that looked like it could benefit Samherji in Namibia. He brought one thing, however, to the meeting at the Windhoek Hilton: a family photo album which he showed to the Samherji executives.
“He shows us a photo album on his iPad with a photo of him with the daughter of the fisheries minister. He was the minister’s son-in-law, which was enough to secure a few more meetings and then for Aðalsteinn to make a deal with him,” Johannes says.
The young man in question was Tamson Hatuikulipi—Fitty to his friends and family. Fitty is also the vanity plate on his smart white Mercedes.
Aðalsteinn Helgason made a deal with Tamson in writing, mostly because of his familial connections, according to Jóhannes. His role was vaguely defined; only that Tamson could and would get Samherji horse mackerel quotas.
Tamson did this by introducing Samherji to his father-in-law, as outlined in a memo from Jóhannes to his superiors, shortly after the meeting took place:
Katla “is well connected to the minister of fisheries and his people (known by very few and is confidential knowledge). He supports Katla in Namibia. […] He has requested direct communication between Katla and himself, or rather that it won’t be through the minister’s office. The minister is workingto assist Katla currently.”
The emphasis on secrecy is reiterated many times in the memo.
The data investigated by Kveikur include prominent discussions on connections to officials. References are made to Samherji’s good connections in the highest places and Namibia’s friendly attitude toward Iceland after decades of development aid.
The relationship is described as “very valuable, seeing as quota allocation is political” in Namibia. Elsewhere it is asserted that Samherji will get quotas “through the SWAP[O] party,” which has had almost total control in the country since independence in 1990, making the quota cheaper. They would only need to pay a so-called “quota fee” to the party.
Bribes are spelled out without hesitation with the words: “Corruption is rife in the country” and that it is not unusual to “pay parties for assistance in finishing deals, so-called ‘facilitation fees’.”
Despite emphasising secrecy, the proposed conquests in Namibia were discussed openly at Samherji’s yearly executives’ meeting, held at the Frankfurt Hilton on March 22, 2012. Almost thirty executives from all over the world convene and deliberate. In Frankfurt, Namibia was first on the agenda.
Aðalsteinn Helgason had made a few drafts of his presentation. One of his drafts included this description of Namibians: “Beautiful country and good people. A small nation in a big country. A cheerful and lazy people.” Aðalsteinn’s final presentation in Frankfurt had a more moderate description of Namibians following comments on the wording by his subordinates.
After a traditional coverage of the country he said: “Considerable corruption is rife in the country.” And next to a huge photo of Namibia’s fisheries minister: “The minister can reassign tons for each party on a whim.” Through this minister Samherji would make a shortcut, according to the presentation, without competing for quota on the market, which was too expensive.
There was a less costly way for Samherji through “people close to the minister and other men at the highest level.”
These men and the minister had promised Samherji quota for a lower price than was available to others, Aðalsteinn says. Samherji was “close to the minister” and now had “a chance we won’t be given again,” according to the final words of the presentation.
The men Aðalsteinn claimed to be close to the minister were the aforementioned Tamson, Tamson’s close relative, James Hatuikulipi, manager of a financial company, and Sacky Shanghala, a high-ranking SWAPO member and the current justice minister of Namibia, who at the time served as the powerful chairman of the country’s legal review committee.
The three men were also known as “The Sharks.”
James and Sacky have garnered extensive wealth from the state’s exclusivity agreements and as a result they have been criticised harshly and accused of corruption. Sacky strenuously denies the claims but has also said that politics and economics are bedfellows and difficult to separate.
The sharks may have been new to the fishing industry but nonetheless they had value.
“All of our deepest secrets are in that group with the minister,” Jóhannes said in a memo to Þorsteinn Már Baldvinsson, the CEO and one of three largest shareholders of the company, and Aðalsteinn in August 2012. The memo outlines the importance of each one. Tamson is said to have been of great use in bringing messages between the minister and Samherji. James is said to play a big part too, and Sacky is labelled influential and useful, as he plays a part in writing the country’s law.
Samherji paid the sharks lots of money and strengthened this relationship in the years that followed. At least three times Samherji has flown them to Iceland and taken care of millions in expenses, as evidenced by invoices and receipts for flights and hotel stays in Iceland and London.
Out on the town in Reykjavík, visiting Samherji’s CEO, as special guests at Samherji’s annual celebration in 2016, and on a snowmobile trip in northern Iceland, all paid for by Samherji. Þorsteinn Már and the minister also met at least twice in Namibia, both times secretly. A picture shows the two of them in October 2015 at the home of the minister’s son-in-law.
Their first meeting took place in May 2012. In attendance were Aðalsteinn and Jóhannes, as well as two of the sharks: Tamson and James. Neither the Hilton nor the minister’s nearby home were deemed appropriate for the meeting, so they went to the Dakota House ranch, 200 km west of the city, for some privacy.
“The meeting on the minister’s ranch in 2012 was very important. Þorstein and Aðalsteinn made the journey to Namibia. It was held at the minister’s ranch to ensure utmost secrecy. The intention was building trust. The trust that would matter so much in the future. The minister also promised Samherji “comfort” to get quotas at prices that were lower than usual,” says Jóhannes.