Windhoek — There was high drama at the Windhoek High Court yesterday when an initial urgent application seeking to set aside the arrest of former fisheries minister Bernhard Esau was adjourned to Tuesday, only for the court to later order to his release. This followed a second sitting of the court before Judge Hannelie Prinsloo after lawyers representing the Anti-Corruption Commission, the prosecutor-general and the Namibian Police, among others, conceded that the warrant of arrest was not in compliance with the law in a number of respects. The ACC and the police will now have to apply for a new warrant of arrest. Esau was arrested on late Saturday afternoon after a warrant for his arrest was issued on the same day in connection with the massive bribery scandal, which has also seen a number of high-profile officials implicated, including former justice minister Sacky Shanghala.
An Icelandic fishing company, Samherji, reportedly secured access to horse mackerel quotas in Namibia by paying bribes of around N$150 million to politicians and businessmen between 2012 and 2018.
According to Wikileaks, Esau, Shanghala, former Investec Asset Management Namibia CEO James Hatuikulipi and Tamson 'Fitty' Hatuikulipi, who is also a son-in-law of the former fisheries minister, are all implicated in the kickback scheme.
Mike Nghipunya, who heads the state-owned Fishcor company with its headquarters at Lüderitz,
is also named in the scandal. According to media reports, Samherji's CEO and biggest shareholder, Þorsteinn Már Baldvinsson, authorised the bribe payments.
A senior manager at Investec Asset Management Namibia Ricardo Gustavo was also arrested, while the ACC confirmed it was still looking for the other accused in the matter. Gustavo, however, did not challenge his arrest at the weekend.
Esau through his lawyer Advocate Tinashe Chibwana on the instruction Appolos Shimakeleni approached the High Court yesterday at around 10:00 on an urgent basis to declare his warrant of arrest under which he was detained at the Otjomuise police station as invalid.
Esau lawyers argued in court that there was no indication on the arrest warrant under which law he was being detained. Judge Prinsloo initially adjourned the matter to Tuesday to allow the respondents in the matter to respond to the affidavit. At around 15h45 yesterday, both parties reached a settlement agreement, which declared Esau's arrest invalid and the scheduled appearance on Tuesday vacated.
Slyskan Makando represented the state. When contacted for comment yesterday, ACC director-general Paulus Noa said the investigating officer might have missed some technical elements. "I have not been informed of anything yet but what I can tell you is that these things do happen. If that is the case, we will go back to the drawing board and issue another warrant of arrest," said Noa.
Noa in a statement on Saturday said the commission since the beginning of this month has been investigating allegations of conspiracies to commit corrupt practices, corruption, bribery, money laundering, tax evasion and related crimes. He said the allegations as reported by the whistleblower implicated Esau, Shanghala, Gustavo, James and Tamson Hatuikulipi, as well as companies owned by the accused. Noa yesterday confirmed that the commission was by yesterday still looking for Shanghala, James and Tamson Hatuikulipi.
A border agent at Noordoewer and Ariamsvlei border post told New Era that Shanghala and an unidentified man were seen crossing the border into South Africa last week. "The investigation thus far has prima facie proven that conspiracy, bribery, corruption, fraud, money laundering and tax evasion were committed. The cumulative evidence, either real or circumstantial, testified to an apparent well-calculated strategy meant to legalise a corruption scheme," Noa said in the statement.
He said the investigation established that the agreement on cooperation in fisheries and aquaculture entered between government and the Angolan government did not benefit the ordinary citizens and or contributed to the economy as by the terms of the agreement.
"ACC's investigations revealed that companies owned by some of the suspects or proxies were used as conduit to facilitate payments of millions of dollars into other bank accounts of companies linked to the suspects, "he said. In some instances, Noa said businesspersons' bank accounts were used to disguise the ill-rotten money, buy a property and shortly register the same property in the name of the "real beneficiary" disguising to have sold the property to him.
"We have identified movable and immovable assets which are reasonably suspected to be linked to proceeds of crimes. The evidence in this regard has been shared with Prosecutor-General Martha Imalwa to consider initiating civil proceedings against such assets in terms of Prevention of Organised Crime Act (POCA)," Noa said.
Furthermore, Noa appealed to members of the public who may have information relating to assets suspected to be linked to the matter under investigation to come forward and urgently give the information.