From Iceland — Fishrot Files: Icelandic Investigations Into Samherji Bribes, Tax Evasion Begin

Fishrot Files: Icelandic Investigations Into Samherji Bribes, Tax Evasion Begin

Published November 19, 2019

Andie Sophia Fontaine
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Two Icelandic banks are already investigating the accounting 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, Vísir reports. Samherji’s activities were brought to light last week by Wikileaks through the Fishrot Files, with extensive coverage from Stundin, RÚV’s investigative news programme Kveikur, Al-Jazeera and The Namibian.

Further, Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir told RÚV she is intends to boost funding for tax investigators and prosecutors for the investigation, and even President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson has weighed in on the matter.

Investigations and legal changes

Both Arion Bank and Íslandsbanki are reportedly both investigating the fishing giant’s activities. The directors of both banks would not go into specific details as to what they were investigating regarding Samherji, but the company’s acting CEO, Björgólfur Jóhannsson, told reporters that the company would fully cooperate and assist with investigations.

In addition to confirming that it is a priority of the Icelandic government to provide prosecutors and tax authorities with the funding they might need to investigate Samherji, she added that it is necessary to review existing laws about large Icelandic companies. This is a matter that would concern many different ministries, she says, and is also hoping that the draft of a bill that would protect whistleblowers can be introduced to Parliament soon. For context, the entire Fishrot Files scandal was brought to light by a whistleblower, Jóhannes Stefánsson, the former managing director and CEO of Samherji in Namibia.

“We Icelanders need to be able to hold our heads high in the larger world”

In a visit to the aluminium smelter in Straumsvík last Friday, President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson gave an address, wherein he touched upon the Samherji matter. After calling practices such as “deception, betrayal and bribery” and the like “indefensible”, he went on to talk about Iceland’s reputation on the global stage.

“We Icelanders need to be able to hold our heads high in the larger world,” he said. “Not least of all those of us who have received the trust to do representative work on behalf of the country and its people. We want to have our flagship and vouch for those on board, people in the world of culture and education, sports and arts, people in technology and innovation, people in industry and fishing. We have long been proud of our leadership role in fishing, our knowledge and experience, and want to work with others, to the benefit of everyone.” He mentioned receiving the Namibian ambassador and the developmental work they discussed, continuing, “If we, who present ourselves on behalf of Iceland, want to be able to promise initiative and hard work in fishing and other areas of Icelandic business, we need to see this in our actions, without exception. This greater picture is very possible to hang onto, if the will is there.”

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