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Lessons Learned From the Fishrot Case

Measures to tackle corruption and curb the growing menace of money theft in Namibia has dominated the national discourse over the past years. 

The Fishrot scandal is arguably one of the biggest corruption scandals that put Namibia to shame. The Namibian government and businesses from several sectors are coming under increased scrutiny, to ensure that their domestic and foreign operations comply with anti-corruption and anti-bribery legislation. 

The risk of investigation has never been greater and the reputational risk, given the current media interest in these sorts of scandals, will increasingly be a consideration for companies and government institutions especially publicly traded ones or companies pursuing financing or other significant transactions. 

The latest twist in this long-running saga is Lawyer Sissa Namandje admitting to the media that his law firm has indeed made some transactions which are believed to be Fishrot-bound, however, he was not aware of the source of those funds. This article points out some big lessons the Fishrot case has taught us. 

Board and Senior Management of Companies

Boards and senior management need to take the principles of ethical leadership and legal compliance seriously; the prevention and combatting of corruption poses significant challenges. For this reason, every company’s board should ensure that the company complies with applicable laws and considers adherence to non-binding rules, codes and standards.

Politicians 

Two former ministers are currently behind bars, accused of receiving kickbacks of approximately $200 million, through an approximately N$2 billion deal with an Iceland company, a deal which according to The Bank of Namibia’s Financial Intelligence Centre involves more than N$10 billion, 27 countries, 303 individual bank accounts and around 700 business accounts. This is the first arrest of a high-profile government official on corruption charges since President Hage Geingob assumed power in 2015. 

It has also been reported that part of these monies was used to fund the ruling party’s presidential campaign of 2015. Because of this linkage between the party and the disgraceful money, many young people have lost faith in the ruling party. The biggest question from the youth is: “Is Namibia’s government fighting corruption or just conducting political theatrics?”

Lesson learned: Office of the Auditor-General should not relent in the fight against corruption until the country is swept clean of corruption. They should closely check the spending of public funds & resources by looking at whether these were used for the intended purposes concerning the economy, efficiency and effectiveness. Political parties’ sources of funds should also be investigated to ensure that their sources of funds are clean. We may need to enact more punitive laws. We may need to change the way we approach corruption cases so that if you are found to have stolen from public coffers, you need first of all to resign, you need to leave the office and it needs to be a capital offence so that even the terms of bail need to be so strict that we can use this as a deterrent.

Lawyers 

The Fishrot funds have been facilitated by Namibia’s prominent lawyers into the accounts of different beneficiaries. The Lawyer’s trust account is usually an enticing prospect for criminals seeking ways to launder money acquired illegally, and the lawyer whose trust account is abused in this way stands to be branded and chastised as a money launderer.

Lesson learned: Lawyers need to know who their client is when business relations are being established and certain occasional transactions are entered into. In the Fishrot case, huge amounts of money were involved, the lawyers should have suspected money laundering or terrorist financing, given that it involves foreign companies.

Also, when dealing with a client that is not an individual or a group of individuals, the lawyer needs to identify not only the client but also its beneficial owner(s), i.e. the person who ultimately owns or controls the client and get more information on them and the type of business they are in. 

Auditors

We can all agree that auditing firms responsible for auditing the companies involved in the Fishrot scandal have failed with their duty of fraud detection. An amount of more than a million dollars doesn’t just go missing like that without being traced. Public companies have internal audits, which should have caught these missing funds long ago. Usually, when they don’t, it’s because management is in on the fraud.

Lesson learned: We understand that the prevention and detection of fraud within a company is primarily the responsibility of the management under the oversight of those charged with governance, however, auditors, along with other members of the corporate governance and reporting ecosystem, also have an important role. Internal audit should focus on and should advise on, prevention ahead of the need for detection. In other words, ensuring the cultural, architectural and design elements of a robust fraud prevention framework is in place, even before completing detective approaches in the aftermath of a fraud occurrence.

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