Namibia: Make or Break Day for Fishrot Accused

Judge's gavel (file photo).
14 December 2020

Today is make or break day for the seven men in custody in the Fishrot case when magistrate Vanessa Stanley will determine if the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has indeed completed their investigations and be ready for the matter to be referred to the prosecutor general for her decision on what charges and in which court they are to be arraigned.

In September this year, Stanley granted the ACC one last chance to finalise ongoing investigations in the case of former ministers and businessmen implicated in the infamous Fishrot scandal.

When Stanley handed down her ruling on the application by the ACC for a further postponement, she said there was no undue delay to finalise investigations in the matter. She said factors such as the complexity of the case and the Covid-19 pandemic, which has forced the ACC to work with a skeletal staff, have played a part in investigations not being finalised.

Stanley also indicated that the accused's multiple applications, both in the lower and High Court, also contributed to the delay.

Although granting the State's application, Stanley said that it would be a final remand in both cases. Both cases were for the last time postponed to 14 December. All accused persons were remanded in police custody.

On 4 September, deputy prosecutor general Cliff Lutibezi brought an application to have the court postpone the Nengomar case for further investigations. He further sought an order to postpone the Fishcor case in which investigations have been concluded for the prosecutor general to pronounce herself on whether to prosecute the seven Fishrot accused or not.

The State's application was strongly opposed by the defence team who argued that there is an unjustified delay in investigations, which commenced in 2014.

The defence team argued that another postponement would further prejudice their clients who have been in police custody for more than 10 months.

They argued that the State rushed to arrest and detain the accused without completing its investigations. They argued that their clients have lost their livelihoods, incomes and they have been separated from their families.

Furthermore, they have already been found guilty on social media due to the public's interest in the case and wide media coverage. The defence lawyers instead want the court to dismiss the State's application or have the matter provisionally struck from the court roll and once investigations have been concluded, the accused can be re-summoned.

They also want the court to consider releasing the accused on bail with conditions attached to pending investigations.

Former ministers Bernhard Esau and Sacky Shanghala, Tamson 'Fitty' Hatuikulipi, Ricardo Gustavo, James Hatuikulipi, Mike Nghipunya and Pius Mwatelulo were arrested last year and face charges ranging from fraud to bribery, corruptly using the office for gratification, money laundering and conspiring to commit corruption.

The charges emanate from allegations that an Icelandic fishing company Samherji reportedly secured access to horse mackerel quotas in Namibia by paying bribes of around N$130 million to politicians and businessmen between 2012 and 2018.

They also face counts of fraud, bribery, corruptly using the office for gratification, money laundering and conspiring to commit corruption, in connection with N$75.6 million that was syphoned out of the state-owned National Fishing Corporation of Namibia (Fishcor). The accused's defence team consists of Florian Beukes, Tinashe Chibwana, Appolos Shimakeleni, Milton Engelbrecht, Trevor Brokerhoff and Gilroy Kasper.

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