By Shinovene Immanuel | 24 February 2021
BUSINESSMAN Olavi Hamutumwa’s company was paid N$800 000 as a ‘facilitation fee’ to secure a fishing quota from a state-owned fishing agency of which the board was led by Tobie Aupindi.
Hamutumwa and Aupindi are said to be close friends. Hamutumwa has been a rising star in the fishing sector for years.
Two years ago he led a consortium that bought a 49% stake in the Tunacor Group – a politically connected fishing company owned by presidential children.
Now, Hamutumwa’s name has cropped up in a transaction linked to the Fishrot corruption scandal involving a deal with the state-owned Namibia Fish Consumption Promotion Trust (NFCPT).
Hamutumwa told The Namibian over the weekend he submitted documents to the Anti-Corruption Commision as requested.
The Namibian reported last week that the NFCPT investigation report contained an allegation by whistleblower Johannes Stefánsson that he paid Aupindi – code-named ‘Mr Chairman’ – N$1 million cash in 2012.
Aupindi has denied knowledge of this transaction, saying the allegation is “vague, embarrassing, and unfounded”.
However, another murky transaction is linked to Aupindi involving Hamutumwa.
It dates back to 2012 when Aupindi was the chairperson of the NFCPT, which was set up to make fish affordable to Namibians.
The NFCPT advertised a tender in December 2011, asking companies to catch the fishing quota it receives from the government.
That’s how Hamutumwa came into the picture.
His company Ongudi Investment submitted a bid on 28 January 2012 to catch the NFCPT’s fish that month.
Hamutumwa then made a bid presentation to the NFCPT board led by Aupindi.
“Ongudi’s proposal to the NFCPT was to catch, package and make fish available to the NFCPT,” Hamutumwa said on Saturday.
The NFCPT then gave Ongudi a deal to catch its 8 000 tonnes of fish in February 2012.
There was a problem though: Ongudi did not own a vessel for catching the fish.
Hamutumwa’s next move was to negotiate with Katla Seafood, a company owned by Samherji, to catch the 8 000 tonnes for NFCPT.
Samherji owned a fishing vessel.
A document seen by The Namibian shows that Hamutumwa and Samherji’s Katla Seafood struck a deal on 8 March 2012.
It was signed between Stefánsson, who represented Katla Seafood, and Hamutumwa, who represented Ongudi Investment.
The agreement says Katla Seafood “irrevocably undertakes to pay Ongudi an amount of N$800 000” as a facilitation fee if an agreement is reached to catch the quota of the NFCPT for the 2012 fishing season.
The amount, the agreement said, would only be paid if there is proof that Hamutumwa’s company signed a catching agreement with the NFCPT.
According to the document, Ongudi could sue if Katla Seafood “fails to pay the facilitation fee to the nominated banking account to Ongudi within three working days after signature date”.
Industry sources last week questioned this transaction.
One of their first concerns was Hamutumwa’s proximity to Aupindi.
The two are said to have been friends for years. So far, Aupindi’s lawyers have refused to prove that he recused himself from a transaction involving his friend.
The other concern was why a state-owned agency entrusted to make fish affordable was using a middleman company to catch its fishing quota.
“The question that begs to be answered is this: Why did the fish consumption trust appoint a company that does not have a vessel to go and catch its quota? Why could they not go directly to operators (vessel owners)?” a source familiar with this transaction said.
“What was the point of the middleman? What is the cost of that to the end consumer?” the source asked.
Stefánsson has in the past claimed he paid bribes on behalf of Samherji to obtain quotas from the fish consumption trust.
Hamutumwa said his company was not a middleman.
“Ongudi can never be classified as a middleman,” he said, adding that his company added “tremendous value to this transaction”.
“The value of fish products supplied to NFCPT was around N$22 million to N$24 million. Ongudi was also contracted to deliver cartons to NFCPT,” he said.
“Ongudi was contracted to catch 8 000 tonnes and deliver 2 000 tonness to the NFCPT, which were successfully delivered as expected,” he said.
“Part of our advice was to recommend that the NFCPT open more shops countrywide,” he said.
He declined to comment on whether it was a conflict of interest for him to land that deal since his friend Aupindi was in charge.
“I know Tobie Aupindi. I am not privy to the way, manner and system the Namibia Fish Consumption Promotion Trust conduct their board meetings, and their internal processes at board meetings,” Hamutumwa said on Saturday.
He said the payment to Ongudi “was for the quota usage agreement between Esja and Ongudi”.
Esja is owned by Icelendic seafood company Samherji, which is accused of bribing Namibian politicians and business people to access fishing quotas.
The NFCPT on 27 November 2019 instituted an investigation after Stefánsson alleged that consumption trust officials were bribed.
It appointed ISG Namibia – owned by lawyer Eben de Klerk – to “conduct an investigation into the harvesting of hake and horse mackerel quotas, with particular emphasis on any possible implication in what is now known as the Fishrot scandal”.
That report recommended that deals from 2012, including Hamutumwa’s deal, be reported to the ACC.
“The board of trustees should consider reporting the information on the 2012 additional quota allocation letter to the Anti-Corruption Commission,” the report said.
Aupindi’s lawyer Richard Metcalfe has been threatening The Namibian with legal action since last week’s article that quoted allegations by Stefánsson.
Stefánsson is quoted in an NFCPT investigation report that he paid N$1 million in cash to Aupindi at the Hilton Hotel in 2012.
Metcalfe has so far written three letters.
He admits in one of the letters that “Aupindi is indeed an acquaintance of Mr Olavi Hamutumwa, as with other business people”.
Metcalfe claims that conflict of interest concerns are baseless.
“The concept of conflict of interest was in its nascent form in 2012 and had not developed to the extent to which you wish to tautologically and artificially merit it to apply to suit your false misrepresentation,” the lawyer said.
He said Aupindi did not act of his own accord as decisions were made by the full NFCPT board.
Metcalfe also attacked Stefánsson, claiming the former business executive is misleading authorities since the N$1 million payment was allegedly made to another person.
Stefánsson has in the past said the N$1 million paid to Aupindi was a cash transaction and should not be confused with another transaction that was paid via a bank.