Namibia: Esau Takes Dig At Lawyers

Preparing fish to be tinned (file photo).

Former fisheries minister Bernhard Esau is questioning why lawyers whose trust accounts were used to channel alleged corrupt payments from the National Fishing Corporation of Namibia have not been arrested and charged like he has.corr

Esau makes comments on this score in an affidavit used as the basis for a bail application that he launched in the Windhoek Magistrate's Court yesterday.

With one set of charges that he faces connected to allegations that the state-owned Fishcor made payments totalling around N$75,6 million to him and some of his co-accused, Esau is taking aim at the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) and the lawyers whose trust accounts were allegedly used to make such payments.

Esau notes that there are "senior lawyers" - an apparent reference to legal practitioners Sisa Namandje and Marén de Klerk - who are alleged to have received large amounts of money through their law firms' trust accounts from Fishcor.

He never interacted with those lawyers or received money from Fishcor through them, Esau says.

While the lawyers involved in the payments by Fishcor have been given a chance to give an explanation to the ACC, he has not been given such an opportunity, and has instead been locked up on hearsay evidence, Esau claims.

"It appears, with respect, that the ACC is more concerned with colouring me as the architect of their allegations to deprive me of liberty [... ] whilst lawyers who are directly implicated with evidence of their criminal activities are not even apprehended by the ACC to be brought before court," he remarks in his statement.

All of his assignments to manage Namibia's fishing sector as minister of fisheries and marine resources were aligned with government policies and programmes like Vision 2030, the National Development Plan 5, the Harambee Prosperity Plan, Swapo election manifestos and Cabinet directives "as provided by the Swapo-led government", Esau also states.

"There was no corruption, money laundering or fraud committed in the execution of my duties neither gratification to myself as minister of fisheries [...] as is alleged by the ACC," he says.

Instead of testifying in person in support of his request to be granted bail after more than seven months in jail, Esau has placed a 40-page affidavit, in which he denies having been involved in any of the crimes with which he is charged, before magistrate Duard Kesslau.

Defence lawyer Richard Metcalfe, who is leading a legal team representing Esau and his son-in-law Tamson Hatuikulipi, read Esau's statement to the court.

Esau (62) and Hatuikulipi (39), who were both arrested on 27 November last year on charges in connection with alleged corruption with the access that Icelandic fishing companies got to Namibian fishing quotas, are jointly applying to be granted bail.

State advocate Cliff Lutibezi informed the court that the prosecution is opposing the bail application.

In his statement, Esau says he intends to remain in Namibia and stand trial to clear his name. "Contrary to the perceptions created by the ACC, I am not the corrupt politician they portray me as," he says.

Also in the affidavit, Esau offers to cede his farm, Dakota, in the Gobabis district, and his house in Hochland Park, Windhoek, with a combined value of N$23 million, to the state as security for bail and to deposit a further amount of N$50 000 as bail.

With his bank accounts frozen, he says, his arrest and subsequent stay in jail have had a heavy impact on his family, which has been left without an income. His dependants are "on the verge of starvation", he adds.

Esau also states that "not a single dollar" in his bank accounts was linked to any of the charges against him, that he acquired his house and farm legally in 1996 and 2002, respectively, long before he was appointed as minister of fisheries, and that the money he has in his bank accounts was legally earned.

The first charges on which Esau, Hatuikulipi, former justice minister Sacky Shanghala and three co-accused were arrested in late November last year are connected to allegations that an Angolan-owned company, Namgomar Pesca Namibia, had been corruptly awarded quotas to catch 55 000 tonnes of horse mackerel in Namibia from 2014 to 2019.

At the same time, the state is alleging that two Icelandic-owned companies paid about N$103,6 million in bribes and kickbacks to Esau and four of his co-accused to get access to the Namgomar quotas.

Esau says in his affidavit he could not nominate an entity in Angola which was to receive a fishing quota in Namibia, as that was purely at the discretion of the Angolan government. He also says he met Angola's former fisheries minister Victoria de Barros Neto only once, and the bilateral fisheries cooperation agreement between Namibia and Angola, which he signed, could only be concluded on instructions of Namibia's president.

The bail hearing is due to continue today.

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