Iceland’s largest fishing company tried to silence a whistleblower who had information about an alleged multimillion-dollar bribery scheme by having him involuntarily committed to a hospital, Africa Confidential has reported.
Samherji established a secretive group of employees known as the “guerrilla unit” who conspired to destroy the reputation of Jóhannes Stefánsson, a company executive who knew about bribes paid to obtain fishing rights in Namibia. “Hopefully [our CEO] will sharpen the knives and go on to slaughter Jóhannes,” a guerrilla unit member e-mailed to another. “Yes, I know. I want to stab, turn and sprinkle salt into the wound,” the colleague responded, according to Africa Confidential.
The clandestine group, also known as the “shadow department,” went so far as to hire a private investigator to portray Stefánsson as an alcoholic in order to have him committed to a substance abuse hospital in Iceland, Africa Confidential reported on Feb. 17. The private investigator urged the hospital to hold Stefánsson immediately because had been “drinking uncontrollably,” and said Samherji itself would pay for the involuntary confinement, according to leaked documents seen by the newspaper.
This episode of the Fishrot scandal shows not only how far Samherji would go in its efforts to silence Stefánsson. It is also representative of how witnesses around the world continue to suffer often brutal reprisals despite more than 50 countries having passed whistleblower protection laws.
“I wasn’t surprised to hear this. They will go to any length to damage me and my name,” Stefánsson told WNN. “I always knew they were working against me, to stop to me from cooperating with the investigation and testifying. They will continue to work against me. They are evil and desperate.”
While working as an executive for Samherji in Africa, Stefánsson collected e-mails, financial records, photos and videos that he says show how Samherji paid millions of dollars to illicitly secure the rights to catch mackerel. The Fishrot scandal led to the arrests of high-ranking politicians and business figures in Namibia, known collectively as “the sharks.”
Among the 10 people being prosecuted are former fisheries and justice ministers, and former executives from the state-owned fishing company Fishcor. All of them have denied guilt; one escaped to South Africa.
Fishrot was revealed by several media outlets, including WikiLeaks, The Namibian, Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, Kveikur, Platform to Protect Whistleblowers in Africa and Al-Jazeera, whose journalists posed as Chinese investors trying to obtain Namibia’s fishing rights.
As retaliation, Stefánsson was slandered, harassed and threatened with prosecution. He also believes he was poisoned. His case has become among the most important and celebrated in recent years. In April 2021, Stefánsson received the WIN WIN Gothenburg Sustainability Award for “demonstrating great courage and selflessness in his fight against misuse of power and corruption.”
Whistleblower of the Week Profile on Jóhannes Stefánsson