Namibia: Namandje, Law Society Square Off Over Fishrot

LAWYER Sisa Namandje has attacked the Law Society of Namibia's decision to investigate his firm over money laundering allegations linked to the Fishrot scandal.

Namandje's firm is among four law firms being investigated.

The Namibian understands the Law Society of Namibia (LSN) has been working with state agencies investigating the Fishrot corruption case such as the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) and the Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC).

A source privy to the matter told The Namibian last week that the law society "launched an investigation based on alleged potential money laundering involving the trust account of Sisa Namandje & Co Inc following a formal disclosure from the Financial Intelligence Centre".

FIC is a specialised national agency responsible for detecting financial crimes in Namibia.

Bank records show that the state-owned National Fishing Corporation of Namibia (Fishcor) made two payments amounting to N$17,5 million into Sisa Namandje & Co's trust account.

Around N$7 million went to businessman Vaino Nghipondoka while N$6 million was paid to Swapo's Oshikoto regional coordinator, Armas Amukwiyu.

Namandje, Ngipondoka and Amukwiyu have denied any wrongdoing.

The Namibian understands the law society, a regulatory body for lawyers, wrote to Namandje in February this year to inform him it had launched the investigation.

A person familiar with the matter said the law society cautioned Namandje that it might be forced to approach authorities if his firm attempted to hinder the investigation.

"The authorities would no doubt consider any such action as obstruction of justice and may take whatever action they deem fit," Namandje was reportedly told.

The law society also informed him that it had appointed auditing firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) to investigate the firm's financial transactions since January 2010.

PUSHBACK

Namandje replied on 14 February 2020 that they were prepared to cooperate but contended that the probe was "unlawful and in violation of our constitutional rights".

He added that he had requested information to determine the legal basis of the forensic probe but, according to him, "we were not provided with any meaningful answers".

Namandje said his firm was entitled to respond to any allegation of misconduct - whether based on a complaint or the society's motion - "on account of a reasonable belief of non-compliance".

He added that his firm's books were audited up to the end of February 2019.

During this process, Namandje said, the auditors were required to ascertain whether the firm complied with the law and had adequate anti-money laundering measures in place.

He said the audit report was submitted to the law society in August last year.

Namandje questioned the motive behind the probe because "you did not indicate that you have received a complaint".

"It is thus not clear to us on what basis the Law Society of Namibia wants to have - apparently - all our books inspected," he said.

As far as The Namibian has been able to determine, the other law firms being probed are cooperating.

PWC'S ROLE

Enter PwC, which was appointed to do a forensic investigation into Namandje's trust account, covering transactions from January 2010.

Namandje questioned whether PwC qualified as an accredited auditor.

"PwC is not an accountant and auditor. The LSN is not empowered to appoint auditing firms. It must appoint a specific accountant or auditor who is himself or herself a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Namibia," he said.

Namandje also argued that PwC had acted as auditors for some of the involved parties: "PwC and the accountants and auditors there may thus be conflicted and cannot be appointed with an unclear mandate to fumble around in our records with no clear indication of the nature of the allegations being investigated."

He said they had been advised by their lawyers that "we are entitled to refuse to engage PwC and the law society under the circumstances".

"The last thing we will permit is a willy-nilly fishing expedition or unlawful raiding of files or any electronic data, which contains privileged information of our hundreds of clients including a good number of clients currently being investigated by ACC, and in a manner disregarding not only our own but also our clients' constitutional rights," Namandje said.

He also accused PwC of a conflict of interest because of comments posted on Facebook by its managing director, Nangula Uaandja, last December.

Uaandja spoke out on the impact of corruption in Namibia and made special reference to the Fishrot scandal.

"How can one commit such a magnitude of corruption and sleep at night while we have a very high unemployment rate, very high poverty rate to an extent that some people are going to bed hungry and such high inequalities and then we preach black empowerment," Uaandja said at the time.

Namandje's pushback appeared to be working.

Uaandja told The Namibian last week that PwC is not involved in the matter any more.

"We do not comment on client-related matters, as our professional code of conduct precludes us from doing so. For clarity, however, we no longer act for the law society in the above-mentioned matter," she said.

Namandje told The Namibian last weekend that the law society did not indicate that it had reasonable grounds to investigate their firm.

"Had we been informed of such a decision, we would have been entitled to respond to the allegations, upon receipt of a written notice from the law society, which notice would have included sufficient details on the alleged conduct complained of," he said.

Namandje says he has lodged a disciplinary complaint against members of the law society.

Law society director Retha Steinmann and council chairperson Meyer van den Berg are yet to respond to questions sent to them last week.

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