Norwegian bank in hot water over Fishrot
17 Dec 2020

Norway’s largest bank, DNB, ended its relationship with Icelandic seafood company Samherji after the fishing company gave what the bank deemed inadequate explanations of payments to three offshore companies and a company owned by the son-in-law of Namibia’s former fisheries minister.

Documents filed in the Windhoek High Court shed new light on why DNB closed the accounts of subsidiaries of scandal-hit Samherji last year.

DNB issued a public statement last week saying it had been warned it may be hit with a N$674 million fine for not complying with money laundering regulations.

The bank has been under police investigation in Norway since the Fishrot Files were published last year.

Last fall’s timeline is described in a document from Økokrim, Norway’s financial crimes investigation unit, which was shared with Namibian authorities this year.

The August 2020 report by Elisabeth Myre, an Økokrim investigator, details the start of the Norwegian investigation:

On 28 November last year, Økokrim contacted DNB, telling the bank that based on “public information related to possible bribery of Namibian officials” using DNB accounts, Økokrim had determined that there was “reasonable cause” to start an investigation.

The Økokrim letter appears to have prompted the bank to take action. The next day, the bank wrote to four Cypriot companies– Esja Seafood, Esja Shipping, Noa Pelagic and Heinaste Investments – and the Polish fishing company, Atlantex, asking the companies to explain bank transfers that had raised questions.

The letters to the five Samherji subsidiaries, signed by Eivind Blankenberg, a DNB employee, stated that in accordance with Norwegian money laundering regulations, the bank was obligated to perform due diligence reviews of its customers.

“We have reason to believe that the information DNB has about Atlantex SpZ.O.O. is outdated and/or incorrect.”

The letter refers specifically to Wikileaks’s publication of the Fishrot Files, and Kveikur’s coverage of Samherji’s alleged illegal business practices in Africa: bribery, corruption, tax evasion and money laundering — including accusations of illegal payments from Samherji’s DNB accounts.

The bank also asked the companies for information about financial statements, tax compliance and the directors of each of the five companies, as well as for a list of the companies’ largest suppliers and customers, and information about the purpose of those business transactions.

The response letters from Samherji’s subsidiaries are not part of the documents filed in Namibian courts, but it is clear that DNB did not think their answers were sufficient, since the bank decided to end its business relationship with the companies.

In letters sent to two of the subsidiaries, Atlantex and Noa Pelagic, on 10 December last year, the bank wrote:

“The bank has reviewed the information and documentation received from you, and we hereby inform you that the information is not sufficient to clear up the issues brought up by the bank.

Adalsteinn Kjartansson, Icelandic National Broadcasting Service, 15 December 2020

Read more by Icelandic National Broadcasting Service via The Namibian

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