Namibia: State Hunts Fishrot Assets in Dubai

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Gavel.

Namibian authorities are working with South African and other international law enforcement agencies to track down and freeze any Fishrot and state capture assets held in Dubai and other countries overseas.

This move comes after the Namibian authorities failed to do this on their own late last year in the wake of an international fishing kickback scandal exposé.

The scandal led to the arrest of former justice minister Sacky Shanghala and former fisheries minister Bernhard Esau and four others in November last year, for allegedly receiving kickbacks worth N$150 million in exchange for fishing rights to an Icelandic company, Samherji.

In an interview with The Namibian, attorney general, Albert Kawana said Namibia was experiencing great difficulties in attaching the Fishrot assets in Dubai as well as other countries, but they have now involved law enforcement agencies from European, Scandinavian and Middle East countries in a bid to get their hands on the assets.

"The process started last year already. International cooperation is very complicated. Some countries are cooperating, while others do not want to do so. Some countries are very, very sensitive. I recall one, which is a known tax haven. They completely ignored us.

"Some of that money comes from the European countries. It is not just one, but spread in a lot of countries which I won't mention now,"Kawana said.

Kawana said Namibia is confident that the involvement of European countries will help the country recover the assets.

The minister refused to reveal the countries, saying this may jeopardise the ongoing investigations.

The Namibian understands that the countries inlcude Dubai, Norway, Iceland and Cyprus, among others.

"So we sought the assistance of the EU, because doing it ourselves was not taking us anywhere. With European assistance, we believe the matter is going to work out positively, especially if such countries can be blacklisted, if found to be non-compliant with European standards.

"We are determined to recover everything that belongs to Namibia. So the process is ongoing," Kawana said.

In October last year, the European Union announced the removal of seven countries, including the United Arab Emirates and Switzerland from a list of countries described as tax havens.

Switzerland has since delivered on its commitments to reform its tax rules.

The EU tax haven lists were set up in 2017 and track jurisdictions that do not cooperate with the bloc on tax matters.

Sources within the investigation team told The Namibian that these assets are linked to Namgomar and Samherji, two companies linked to the scandal.

The sources revealed that the two companies are the source of the money that was laundered and channelled to various local companies, including local law firms. Speaking from Pretoria during a telephone interview with The Namibian, Hawks spokesperson, brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi, confirmed that the two countries are working together on the issue.

"Namibia and South Africa are members of [the] Southern Africa Regional Police Chiefs Cooperation Organisation. We work together. We do not reveal our investigation methodologies although we have cemented relations with other foreign law enforcement agencies.

"I'm of the view that all matters of mutual assistance are best placed at Interpol or the department of justice," Mulaudzi said.

Finance minister Calle Schlettwein spoke extensively to The Namibian about the properties and assets held in Dubai by the Fishrot accused.

He said it is not only bank accounts but also properties that need to be seized.

"We are aware of such assets in other countries, we have initiated the process to collaborate with international entities through bilateral and other sovereign agreements to have our interests covered.

"The difficulty is that properties in other coun-tries are protected just as they are in Namibia. We have to prove that such assets are proceeds of crime. It will be completely wrong for us (Namibia) to just show up and take everything without following procedures. So, the rule of law is correct," Schlettwein said.

ACC director general Paulus Noa said he was not the right person to comment on assets recovered in other countries.

"The mutual legal assistance go through the Ministry of Justice and the attorney general," Noa said.

The ACC in December managed to attach 21 properties belonging to the Fishrot 6 in Namibia. If found guilty, the accused stand to lose all these assets.

Prosecutor general Martha Imalwa refused to comment on the matter, citing the sensitivity of the investigations.

Acting justice minister Frans Kapofi said he had not been approached on the move yet and that "it was news to him'.

The Fishrot six - Esau, Shanghala, James Hatuikulipi, Tamson 'Fitty' Hatuikulipi, Ricardo Gustavo and Pius Mwatelulo - filed an urgent High Court application against FIC, ACC, local banks and the prosecutor general last week through their lawyers, Apollos Shimakeleni, asking the court to review, correct and declare the freezing of their personal as well as their companies' accounts at various financial institutions illegal.

The accused argue that their right to property has been and continues to be violated as a result of their accounts being frozen.

Their court case will be heard on 4 February 2020. They remain in police custody in the meantime.

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