Evidence heard in a bail application by former minister of fisheries and marine resources Bernhard Esau and his son-in-law Tamson Hatuikulipi in July last year showed that the state appears to have a strong case against them, a judge concluded in a judgement delivered in the Windhoek High Court on Friday.
Magistrate Duard Kesslau’s finding that the allegations made against Esau (63) and Hatuikulipi (39) appeared to have substance and that the state has a strong case against them cannot be faulted, judge Herman January remarked in a judgement in which he dismissed an appeal against the magistrate’s refusal to grant them bail. Kesslau turned down the two men’s bail application in the Windhoek Magistrate’s Court on 22 July last year.
January also remarked that the explanations given by Esau and Hatuikulipi in response to the charges they are facing “amount to untested bare denials”, since they chose not to testify during their bail hearing and instead presented their versions to the court in affidavits.
The state, however, presented oral evidence to the court to back up its allegations against Esau and Hatuikulipi, the judge noted as well.
He further said it was completely justified for Kesslau to refuse bail to Esau and Hatuikulipi on the grounds of the public interest and the interest of the administration of justice, and that the magistrate was also correct to conclude that many questions which could have been raised with Esau and Hatuikulipi had been left unanswered because of their decision not to testify during the bail hearing.
Judge Marlene Tommasi agreed with January’s decision to dismiss the appeal against Kesslau’s refusal of bail.
With the failure of their appeal, none of the three bail appeals lodged in the High Court by some of the accused charged in the two high-profile pending cases about alleged corruption in Namibia’s fishing industry has succeeded.
Esau, Hatuikulipi and 24 co-accused – including ex-minister of justice Sacky Shanghala and former Investec Asset Management Namibia managing director James Hatuikulipi, who is a cousin of Tamson Hatuikulipi – are charged with having been involved in a scheme in which Icelandic-owned companies paid them at least N$103 million during the period from 2014 to 2019 to get access to Namibian fishing quotas under a supposed fisheries cooperation agreement between Namibia and Angola.
In a second case, Esau, Tamson Hatuikulipi, Shanghala, James Hatuikulipi, who was also the chairperson of the board of directors of the National Fishing Corporation of Namibia (Fishcor), former Fishcor chief executive officer Mike Nghipunya and 14 co-accused – including eight close corporations and two trusts – are charged with having diverted some N$75 million in quota usage fees which Icelandic-owned companies were supposed to pay to Fishcor to themselves or recipients of their choice between August 2014 and December 2019.
The prosecutor general has decided that in both cases, the accused should stand trial in the Windhoek High Court, where they are scheduled to have a first pretrial hearing on 22 April.
Esau and Hatuikulipi have been in custody since their arrest near the end of November 2019.
They were represented by defence lawyers Richard Metcalfe and Florian Beukes during their bail hearing and in the appeal. State advocate Hesekiel Iipinge represented the prosecution when the appeal was argued five weeks ago.