Namibia: Another Law Firm Dragged Into Fishrot

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The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has confirmed investigating another law firm, Ellis Shilengundwa Incorporated, in connection with funds deposited into their bank account by the National Fishing Corporation of Namibia (Fishcor).

Ellis & Partners Incorporated was established in 1997 by renowned lawyer Phillip Ellis. Ellis, however, left the law firm in 2009. In 2011, Anne Shilengundwa joined the law firm as a partner, which led to the name being changed to Ellis Shilengundwa Incorporated. Shilengundwa also left the firm in 2017.

The two lawyers have now each established separate individual law firms.

The investigation follows confirmation by the Law Society of Namibia that it was collecting information and engaging other institutions to deliberate on the conduct of legal practitioners implicated in the Fishrot scandal.

The other two law firms being investigated are those of Sisa Namandje and Sacky Kadhila Amoomo.

ACC chief public relations officer, Josefina Nghituwamata told The Namibian that the anti-graft body cannot say much since the investigation is ongoing.

"Kindly note that it is true that the ACC is investigating the law firm Ellis Shilengundwa in connection with the payment made to the firm by Fischor.

"However, at this point we cannot say much since the investigation is ongoing. No additional information for now, and once we gather more on the Fishrot investigation, we will share it," Nghituwamata said.

The ACC refused to say when the funds were paid to the law firm and how much is involved.

"At this point, we are unable to reveal the amount transferred and the date. This information is key to our investigations. Once the investigations are complete, all related information will be made public," Nghituwamata said.

The Namibian has been reliably informed that the ACC head of investigations, Andreas Kanyangela, has been obtaining statements from individuals at the law firm as well as at Fishcor, in connection with the payment.

The Namibian is also informed that only two statements are outstanding before the completion of the investigation into this transaction.

Ellis Shilengundwa Incorporated is not new to controversy.

In July 2017, the law firm handled a controversial transaction in which the Business and Intellectual Property Authority (Bipa) bought a dilapidated building for N$18 million.

The building is located on a piece of land measuring 1 214 square metres situated in Shire Street, in Wanaheda, Katutura and was owned by Shilengundwa's parents, Hilma and Martin Shilengundwa.

The transaction, which was done at lightning speed, was handled by former trade permanent secretary, Gabriel Sinimbo, former Bipa CEO Tileinge Andima, and Offshore Development Company acting CEO, Phillip Namundjebo, who were accused of collusion.

After a media exposé in October 2017, the ACC undertook a probe, which led to the reversal of the deal by finance minister, Calle Schlettwein a year later.

Andima was suspended during the investigations over the irregularities uncovered. The deal was done without the board's approval or that of the minister.

The property, which was once a shebeen was valued at only N$4,6 million.

The government then dragged Shilengudwa's parents and Andima to court in June 2018 to recover the N$18 million.

Jurie Badenhorst, director at Ellis Shilengundwa Incorporated, told The Namibian on Monday that the law firm would not discuss transactions but admitted that Fishcor was one of its clients.

"Our law firm has clients and other subsidiaries such as Fishcor, Seaflower and so on. In terms of payments, we cannot discuss transactions with the media as you know the matter is under investigation," Badenhorst said.

Chairperson of the Law Society of Namibia, Meyer van den Berg, said the law society's probe is in cooperation with the ACC and the Bank of Namibia's financial crime-busting unit - the Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC).

"We are investigating several law firms. But we are doing so under the auspices of the Legal Practitioners Act. This is in cooperation with the FIC and ACC. But I must mention that each of us are doing so with our own mandate," Van den Berg told The Namibian.

A global investigation - that included The Namibian and international media organisations - exposed late last year how former fisheries minister Bernhard Esau, former justice minister Sacky Shanghala, former Investec Asset Management Namibia managing director James Hatuikulipi and his cousin Tamson 'Fitty' Hatuikulipi, Ricardo Gustavo and Pius Mwatelulo benefited from N$150 million kickbacks paid in Namibia and Dubai.

They accused are facing charges of bribery relating to an Icelandic fishing company, which was given access to Namibian fishing quotas in exchange for millions of dollars in bribes.

They remain behind bars, pending their next court appearance on 20 February.

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