A fishy business: how a European seafood giant shifted its profits out of Namibia

Most reporting about tax avoidance schemes in Africa focuses on oil and mining giants. Until now there has been little focus on one of the continent’s most precious natural resources — fish.

Our investigation published with the OCCRP scoured leaked documents to dig into a whistleblower’s claims that one of Europe’s biggest fishing companies, already accused of bribery in Namibia, had used an array of techniques to reduce its tax bills in the country.

Our analysis of leaked invoices, emails and contracts, as well as company accounts, showed that Icelandic fishing giant Samherji had deployed a variety of methods to shift cash out fo Namibia to low-tax destinations like Cyprus, Mauritius and even the UK.

This included sending hefty royalty and service fees to offshore group companies, and selling fish to its Cypriot sales company at discounted prices.

According to Nick Branigan, chair of the North Atlantic Fisheries Intelligence Group, a network of international government agencies that works with the UN and Interpol on fisheries crime, our findings underscore an industry-wide problem which sees fishing multinationals’ routinely stripping operating profits from developing countries.

Our reporting followed the #Fishrot investigations published by The Namibian, RUV and Al Jazeera which alleged that Samherji had millions in bribes for access to discounted fishing quotas in Namibia.

Samherji strongly denies any wrongdoing. Its current co-chief executive, Björgólfur Jóhannsson, said there were legitimate business reasons for all the transactions raised by Finance Uncovered, arguing that it is standard practice for multinational companies to use specific subsidiaries to legally minimise legal, tax and operational risk.