Jóhannes Stefánsson, who risked his life to single-handedly expose one of the largest illegal fishing scandals in history, will receive the 2021 WIN WIN Gothenburg Sustainability Award, it was announced today.
While working for Iceland’s largest fishing company, Stefánsson collected memos, e-mails, financial records, photos and videos that revealed how Samherji paid millions of dollars in bribes to secure lucrative fishing rights in Namibia. The Fishrot scandal led to the arrests of many high-ranking politicians and business figures in Namibia, and criminal investigations in at least 27 countries.
As retaliation for exposing the crooks, Stefánsson was fired, harassed, threatened with prosecution – and he also believes he was poisoned. The Gothenburg Award’s prize of 1 million Swedish kronor ($120,000) will assist Stefánsson in receiving the medical treatment he has desperately needed since he first collapsed in agony in 2017. His health has been deteriorating ever since.
“When I realized the magnitude of the financial crimes and corruption – how serious the consequences for the Namibian people were – I never hesitated about what I had to do,” Stefánsson said today. “Therefore, it is a great honour to receive such recognition. It also means important financial support that enables us to continue this ongoing fight that is far from over.”
Founded in 2000, the Gothenburg Award recognizes significant contributions by people around the world who work to improve ecological, environmental and social conditions. It is given annually by a non-profit organization supported by the Swedish city of Gothenburg, the county of Västra Götaland, and several organizations and companies. Previous winners include former US Vice President Al Gore, former EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström, Colombian urban planner Enrique Peñalosa, and UK sustainable investment innovator Tessa Tennant.
Stefánsson will receive the award and monetary prize at a ceremony in Gothenburg scheduled for October 21.
Emma Dalväg, chairperson of the award’s jury, highly praised Stefánsson’s public service and selflessness.
“Unfortunately, those with the courage to fight corruption and misuse of power most often have to pay a steep price, and there’s no exception for Jóhannes Stefánsson,” Dalväg said today. “With an unfaltering determination, Stefánsson has defied reoccurring harassment, threats and attempts on his life to keep up his fight. This is an individual who has overthrown an entire industry and strengthened justice for the people; a real hero, in other words, who we are proud to present as this year’s winner.”
“We came to the conclusion that there is one big barrier to sustainable development – and that is corruption. And we realize the enormous importance of whistleblowers,” continued Dalväg. “We wanted to pinpoint how Sweden and other Western countries actually export corruption. This is a big problem. Maybe the companies are not doing it within our borders, but there are a lot of stories of Western companies doing corruption abroad. Fishrot highlights this.”
Originally broken by Wikileaks in November 2019, the Fishrot scandal has been extensively covered by Al Jazeera, OCCRP, Kveikur, and the Platform to Protect Whistleblowers in Africa. The Namibian produced one of the many documentaries on the case. Working with several whistleblower support organizations, Whistleblower Network News launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise funds for Stefánsson’s medical treatment.