Search widens on fishrot Minister

By Jade McClune and Marianne Nghidengwa

THE Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) with the Namibian Police on Tuesday flew to former fisheries Minister Bernhard Esau’s farm outside Windhoek to conduct an extensive search of the property to locate key documents as part of what has now become the fishrot saga. Nampol Inspector General Sebastian Ndeitunga confirmed the search operation, but referred further questions to the ACC as the lead investigating agency on the case.

ACC director general Paulus Noa, who has been under sustained public pressure to act or resign, did not want to discuss the ongoing investigation on Wednesday. “Even if we were there, we don’t share our investigations with the media,” he briefly said, but all indications are that the ACC will oppose Esau’s application to drop all charges.

Meanwhile, Esau and former justice minister Sakeus Shanghala alongside five other fraud- and bribery-accused men are set to return to the High Court on Thursday (today) in a desperate last-ditch attempt to get out of police holding cells before Christmas, and have all charges against them dropped.

Known as the fishrot six, the once renowned corporate leaders, investment managers and two former ministers have been held in police custody near Hosea Kutako airport since their arrest at the end of November, but according to Esau’s affidavit filed last Friday the infamous six are not happy with the service and conditions at their new accommodation.

Since the release of Al Jazeera’s myth-busting documentary, Anatomy of a Bribe, Esau is widely regarded as the kingpin at the centre of a far-reaching and intricate web of corruption involving money-laundering on a monumental scale, bribery, tax evasion and epic-scale fraud stemming from within the Namibian fishing industry.

He and his co-accused now face the daunting prospect of a very long time behind bars if convicted of the heinous and nation-destroying crimes of which they are accused. The disgraced ex-minister last week turned to the courts at the head of his posse with an urgent application that the courts release them immediately until all investigations are complete.

Esau said the prosecution was acting in “bad faith” and that his arrest was part of a political ploy. In his affidavit, he claimed the fishrot data was leaked and broadcast as part of a “regime change” plot. He also blamed demonstrators outside the courthouse of trying to sow civil chaos and accused the courts of bowing to political pressure.

Among other things, he suggested that this treatment was an affront to his dignity as an MP, a Swapo central committee and politburo member. He further complained about being “paraded in handcuffs” outside the courthouse and about his pictures published in the papers.

Esau, known lately as ‘Mr One Girl Over Here and One Girl Over There,’ also accused the police and ACC of not treating him well. He said they forced him against his will to go to his farm to witness a search operation, something he and his co-accused declined to do unless the police offered them a comfortable ride.

He also complained that he and some of the alleged co-conspirators (among them his son-in law Tamson Hautuikulipi and his cousin James, the former chairman of Fishcor) suffered back pains from the “rough ride” on the gravel road to their farms and back to the holding cells.

They further found it intolerable that their lawyers could only visit them during normal working hours, and moreover that they could only have visitors on Sundays.

It is expected that the prosecution and respondents, among them the chief of police, the prosecutor general, the head of the Anti-Corruption Commission, and the magistrate who issued the warrant for their arrest, will oppose the application by Esau and his friends to have all charges against them dropped immediately.

Given that Nigel van Wyk, a known associate of Sakeus Shanghala, was charged with obstruction this week after a police stakeout team near Shanghala’s house saw him and a woman, who was romantically linked to the ex-justice minister, enter his home in Klein Windhoek on Saturday night and leave with computer equipment, documents and ammunition, it appears there is a high risk that the accused could interfere with investigations if released, as some appear to be directing illegal activities, as in the case of van Wyk, even while in custody.

It is understood that the documents that van Wyk and his alleged accomplice tried to remove are critical to the ongoing investigation and were seized by the police.

* Confidente will provide updates on today's court hearing on its Facebook page.