The Fishrot fishing quotas fraud, corruption and racketeering trial will not be starting as scheduled on 2 October, because seven of the 10 men charged in the matter have not secured their legal representation.
Only three of the men due to be prosecuted in connection with their alleged involvement in a multimillion-dollar scheme to illegally benefit from Namibian fishing quotas have their legal representation in place and are ready for their trial to start, acting judge Moses Chinhengo was informed during a pretrial hearing in the High Court at Windhoek Correctional Facility yesterday.
Defence lawyer Milton Engelbrecht told the judge his three clients – former National Fishing Corporation of Namibia (Fishcor) chief executive Mike Nghipunya, Otneel Shuudifonya and Phillipus Mwapopi – are ready to go on trial, after Shuudifonya and Mwapopi were granted state-funded legal aid and Nghipunya arranged his own funding for his legal representation.
With the legal representation of the other accused in the matter not confirmed, though, the trial of the 10 individuals, two companies, 12 close corporations and four trusts charged in connection with the Fishrot scandal will not be starting as scheduled on 2 October.
At the end of the hearing yesterday, Chinhengo postponed the matter to 13 October, when another pretrial hearing is set to take place.
During the hearing, defence lawyer Florian Beukes, who is representing former fisheries and marine resources minister Bernhard Esau, informed the court that Esau still wants to ask the Office of the Attorney General to fund his legal representation during the coming trial.
Esau is also planning to file an application in terms of Prevention of Organised Crime Act to get funds for legal representation released from his assets that have been frozen under a restraint order, Beukes said.
Fellow defence lawyer Lucius Murorua, representing former attorney general and justice minister Sacky Shanghala, James Hatuikulipi and Pius Mwatelulo, told the judge the Directorate of Legal Aid has informed Shanghala and Hatuikulipi that they would not qualify for legal aid, as their financial means exceed the limit under which legal aid is granted.
Murorua added that an application in terms of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act for funds to be released from his clients’ assets that are under a restraint order is expected to be filed in the High Court next week.
A similar application for funds to be released from his frozen assets is to be filed by Tamson Hatuikulipi, his defence lawyer, Mbanga Siyomunji, said.
Murorua also said Shanghala wants to request the Office of the Attorney General to pay for his legal representation, as he was holding positions in government at the time that the alleged crimes he is accused of are claimed to have been committed.
The first accused in the case, Ricardo Gustavo, was not present in court for the hearing yesterday, as he was due to undergo surgery, his defence lawyer, Trevor Brockerhoff, said.
Brockerhoff also said he has advised Gustavo to apply for legal aid, but he did not know if that has been done yet.
Murorua and Brockerhoff both indicated to the judge that they have also not yet prepared for the trial.
Murorua said there was an agreement that the defence lawyers involved in the case would prepare for the trial only after funds have been made available to pay them for their services.
Brockerhoff said he would need about six to eight weeks to prepare for the trial by going through more than 70 000 pages of evidence that the state has disclosed to the accused.
According to deputy prosecutor general Ed Marondedze, the state is ready to start with the trial as scheduled on 2 October.
However, the defence lawyers have indicated that 29 January 2024 would be a feasible date for the start of the trial instead, he said.
Marondedze noted that the state’s evidence was disclosed to the accused in April 2021.
He added that since then, none of the accused has filed a response to a pretrial memorandum through which the state tried to get an indication of what the responses of the accused to the allegations against them are.
The 10 individuals charged in the matter are all being held in custody.