From Iceland — Fishrot Files: Samherji In Damage Control, But Investigations Continue

Fishrot Files: Samherji In Damage Control, But Investigations Continue

Published November 18, 2019

Andie Sophia Fontaine
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Management of Samherji—the Icelandic fishing giant currently embroiled in a scandal involving bribing Namibian officials for fishing quotas, and using a shell company in a tax haven to squirrel away the proceeds—are trying their best to minimise and deflect criticism. However, investigations into their activities are still ongoing, and it does not appear that the matter will blow over any time soon.

“Don’t listen to the negative press”

Of particular note is that Þorsteinn Már Baldvinsson, Samherji’s temporarily-on-leave CEO, paid a visit to a Samherji employee meeting in Dalvík last Thursday, Vísir reports. There, he depicted the investigations into corruption with Samherji management as an attack on all of its employees, and himself as being their protector from unnamed dangers.

“I feel that this attack on you all, and other employees of Samherji in Iceland, who have worked very hard, has to end at some point,” he told the crowd. “Therefore, I hope that by stepping aside, and taking responsibility for possibly something that has been misunderstood in Africa, that responsibility can be aimed to me. Temporarily at least, while we’re going over the situation.”

Björgólfur Jóhannsson, who has taken over Þorsteinn’s position, also addressed the workers, advising them to ignore “negative press” and carry on with their work.

“We should be proud of working for Samherji,” he said. “We should not listen to negative press about the company, much of which is just wrong. It is important that we stand together and move forward, and be proud to work for this company.”

“Incredibly underhanded”

Not everyone was impressed with this spin, least of all Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir, the chair of the Icelandic labour union Efling. Appearing on RÚV to discuss the matter, she dismissed the notion that Samherji investigations were some kind of attack on its workers.

“Unless there has been some kind of extraordinary democratisation at this company, with the employees themselves becoming part owners of the company along with [Þorsteinn],” she said, adding that it was “naturally unbelievably absurd in my opinion and it is incredibly underhanded.”

Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson, Iceland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, told RÚV that he believes Iceland has been broadsided by the revelations.

“This news is a shock,” he said. “And not just a shock to us [in the government] but also, I think the nation is greatly worried that if all this turns out to be true, then what we’re seeing here is behaviour that is quite reprehensible, and as far from what we want to see and believe about Icelandic actors in business.”

Fishing minister still in the spotlight, too

Speaking of Icelandic government ministers, Minister of Fishing Kristján Þór Júlíusson is still in the spotlight. As reported, Kristján was once on the board of Samherji and is a life-long friend of Þorsteinn. Furthermore, amongst the details that have come to light is that in 2014, he went to the main offices of Samherji at the behest of Þorsteinn and met some of the Namibian officials implicated in the scheme.

Rósa Björk Brynjólfsdóttir, an MP for the Left-Greens who is also on the Industrial Affairs Committee, believes that Kristján needs to meet with that standing committee and answer for himself. Writing about the matter on Facebook, she said she also believes the Samherji scandal could have farther reaching effects.

“We have yet to see the full effects of this matter,” she wrote in part. “This includes our tax system and its supervisory authority, considerations regarding the fishing sector, international cooperation that isn’t just about developmental cooperation and it what follows in its wake, but also for us to honour international agreements regarding operations against money laundering and corruption, and the close relationships between politicians and fishing companies. Changes to the constitution that have waited far too long to be enacted. Our reputation on the world stage. And more—as unbelievable as it sounds.”

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