Namibia: Fishrot N$1 Billion in Kazakhstan 'Bogus'

13 September 2021

Anti-Corruption Commission director general Paulus Noa says the pursuit of a mysterious fortune of N$1 billion in a Kazakhstan bank account allegedly linked to the Fishrot corruption cases has run cold.

Noa told The Namibian last week that the investigation by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) found that the lawyer and Fishrot scandal suspect Marén de Klerk's claims about N$1 billion in a Kazakhstan bank account were "bogus".

"Our investigation could not establish the existence of a bank account and amount of money in Kazakhstan linked to the fishery case. Our conclusion on that issue is that the information by De Klerk as far as that money is concerned is bogus," Noa said.

He also said De Klerk sent authorities on a wild goose chase as the existence of the money could not be confirmed and that the information appears to have been based on a lie.

The money is supposedly linked to the Fishrot bribery scandal - which spans across Namibia, Angola, Iceland, Cyprus and Norway - involving alleged kickbacks and questionable Namibian fishing quota transactions valued between N$150 million and N$2,5 billion.

The existence of the N$1 billion allegedly linked to the Fishrot scandal was first revealed by former ACC senior investigator Willem Olivier in July last year, when he testified during a bail application by former fisheries minister Bernhard Esau and his son-in-law Tamson 'Fitty' Hatuikulipi in the Windhoek Magistrate's Court.

Olivier told the court the ACC was investigating an amount of US$63 million in a bank account in Kazakhstan on which De Klerk had placed a lien - a legal hold as a result of a debt he claimed was owed to him.

The new revelations, however, indicate that the ACC accepted De Klerk's claims about the money without testing its authenticity and proceeded to present such information in court.

Olivier has defended himself, saying that there was nothing untoward about his testimony last year.

"I did not lie under oath. I testified that it was not final and that we were going to investigate," he told The Namibian.

Olivier said he was not aware of the ACC's conclusion that the claimed N$1 billion was "bogus". He refused to provide more details about his investigations into the Kazakhstan bank account or contradict the ACC.

"If the commission pronounced itself then I have nothing else to say," he said.

Olivier was a key investigator in the two Fishrot cases currently pending in the Windhoek High Court. He resigned from the commission in March this year to take up a position at the Bank of Namibia.

During the bail hearing, Olivier testified that the ACC's investigations revealed that up to N$3 million of some N$75 million, which the state-owned National Fishing Corporation of Namibia (Fishcor) paid into an account of De Klerk's law firm, was invested in a gas and oil project involving companies in Bulgaria, Japan and Kazakhstan.

In the charges in one of the Fishrot cases now pending in the High Court, the state is alleging that N$81,8 million was diverted from the sale of fishing quotas by Fishcor and channelled through the company Celax Investment Number One, of which De Klerk was the only shareholder, and through the trust account of De Klerk's law firm, to individuals and corporate entities now charged and awaiting trial.

The accused in that respect include Esau, Tamson Hatuikulipi, former Fishcor board of directors chairperson James Hatuikulipi, ex-justice minister Sacky Shanghala and former Fishcor chief executive Mike Nghipunya.

In a sworn statement submitted to the ACC last year, De Kerk narrated that James Hatuikulipi asked him to set up a briefcase company which would be owned by Hatuikulipi's other company, Cambadara Holdings, to be used for the Kazakhstan transaction.

"During 2019, I was approached by Dong Zhang, who communicated to me via email to my law firm address that he is a Hong Kong-based lawyer who acts for a Qatari company, Barzan Energy and Gas Company Ltd," De Klerk recalled.

He recounted: "I was instructed to open a bank account at Kaspi Bank in Kazakhstan, which I duly did. I mention that I was required to pay a security deposit of US$60 000 (N$960 000), which I duly did because I felt there was no risk as I was the sole signatory on this bank account," De Klerk said.

TIGHTLIPPED

The Namibian government is in the process of pursuing avenues to recover the proceeds of the Fishrot scheme in offshore bank accounts. However, the authorities refuse to shed light on their efforts and progress made in attempting to recover such funds.

Justice minister Yvonne Dausab said: "It would seem these questions are difficult to answer at this time because they are likely to impact on the ongoing investigations and processes of the prosecutor general. We are therefore not able to comment."

Attorney general Festus Mbandeka said the matter is in the hands of the prosecuting authorities.

Prosecutor general Martha Imalwa last week said she could not talk to the media about Fishrot-related queries as all her answers were in court documents.

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