It all started when Johannes Stefansson’s conscience got the better of him.
An employee of the huge Icelandic fishing corporation Samherji, Stefansson decided that he could no longer cover for his former bosses.
So he gave Wikileaks 30,000 emails and other bits of evidence about the company’s massive Namibian bribery scheme.
Before long, Al Jazeera’s investigative-journalism team, along with Icelandic media, got in on the story.
Journalism in action
Under the guise of a fictional Chinese investor named “Jonny,” the journalism organizations zeroed in on Namibian Fisheries Minister Bernhard Esau.
The “investor” promised Namibian officials expensive iPhones, and to make huge payments to politicians and a major political party.
Esau and his cronies took the bait.
Al Jazeera’s “Anatomy of a Bribe” series followed, not long before Namibia’s elections last November, revealing deep corruption within Namibia’s fisheries bureaucracy, and Esau at the heart of it.
The Namibian government responded quickly, firing Esau and other officials just prior to elections.
Their trials will begin later this year.
Anatomy of a scheme
Esau and Samherji’s scheme was pretty simple — the fishing company bribed the bureaucrats, and the bureaucrats enabled the fishing company to get exclusive access to fisheries at prices well below market.
Decimation of a developing nation’s resources by a European company is nothing new in the annals of colonial and post-colonial Africa.
The irony is that Namibia’s constitutional framers attempted to avoid the type of exploitative behavior they saw in other African nations by mandating majority-Namibian joint ventures to guard against outright seizure of resources by international firms.
But the well-intended laws backfired through “state capture.”
In this case, the bureaucratic “sharks” — Minister Esau and others — constituted a tiny, elite group that managed a joint venture called Fishcor with majority ownership in Namibian hands.
Another irony is that Iceland is a peaceful country that’s proud of its lack of any exploitative colonialist heritage.
The tiny North Atlantic island is in shock in the wake of the Fishrot scandal.
As one Icelandic parliamentarian stated, “The myth of Iceland’s innocence is dead.”
Innocence, however, is what both Samherji and all jailed Namibian officials are claiming.
As the scandal continues to unfold, it is probable that government employees in both nations will be implicated.