Fishrot accused stumble in bid to stop prison move

James Hatuikulipi

Seven of the men charged in the Fishrot fishing quotas fraud, corruption and racketeering case had to go back to the drawing board on Friday, after an urgent application in which they tried to get an interdict against the Namibian prison authorities was removed from the roll of the Windhoek High Court.

Judge Thomas Masuku removed the urgent application from the court roll after deputy prosecutor general Ed Marondedze, representing the state, argued that the seven accused failed to cite the prison authorities, who have a direct interest in their application, as respondents in the matter.

Instead, they cited the state, represented by the prosecutor general, as respondent.

In the urgent application, which was filed at the Windhoek High Court on Monday last week, the seven accused asked the court to issue an interim order to stop the state, and in particular the officer in charge of Windhoek Correctional Facility, from carrying out a decision to transfer six of the accused from the part of the prison where they have been held in custody to a different section.

The seven applicants in the case were former attorney general and minister of justice Sakeus Shanghala, his business partner James Hatuikulipi, former National Fishing Corporation of Namibia (Fishcor) chief executive Mike Nghipunya, Ricardo Gustavo, Pius Mwatelulo, Otneel Shuudifonya and Phillipus Mwapopi.

They informed the court that the prison authorities have told them a decision has been taken to move Hatuikulipi, Nghipunya, Gustavo, Mwatelulo, Shuudifonya and Esau’s son-in-law Tamson Hatuikulipi from the prison’s C Section, where they are held separate from other inmates, to the correctional facility’s Echo Unit, where they would be held with other awaiting-trial inmates.

In a sworn statement filed at the court last week, Hatuikulipi noted that acting judge Moses Chinhengo, who was appointed as the trial judge for the Fishrot case, ordered on 5 December last year that the prison authorities should allow him and the other accused in the matter to get internet access through the prison authorities’ Wi-Fi facilities, or through their own Wi-Fi devices if the prison’s facilities are not available.

Chinhengo made this order after the accused informed him that they need to have access to computers and the internet to do research in preparation of their trial.

Hatuikulipi said in his affidavit that by moving him, Nghipunya, Gustavo, Tamson Hatuikulipi, Mwatelulo and Shuudifonya from the prison’s C Section to Echo Unit, where they would not have access to their computers and the internet, “would be tantamount to constructive contempt of court” by the Namibian Correctional Service (NCS).

According to Hatuikulipi, some bad-tempered exchanges between him and senior NCS officers took place when the officers visited C Section on 17 April and wanted to inspect the computers used by the Fishrot accused.

Two days after those events, senior prison officers again visited C Section and informed the Fishrot accused that all of them, except former Cabinet members Shanghala and Bernhard Esau and Mwapopi, who is a former Windhoek City Police officer, would be moved from the section to Echo Unit, Hatuikulipi said.

Their right to a fair trial, or to adequately prepare for their trial, would be negated if they are moved to Echo Unit, where they would not have access to their case docket and the internet, and he would not be able to consult with Shanghala, on whom he relies to assist him in his trial preparations, Hatuikulipi said.

He also said they would be placed in communal cells with 32 inmates per cell in the prison’s Echo Unit, and their safety could be at risk when they are held with other awaiting-trial detainees charged with serious crimes like murder, armed robbery and assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm.

Hatuikulipi claimed: “The media has already done a good job creating the impression that we have hordes of cash stashed somewhere, because every one of them [other inmates] wants to be funded either to pay their lawyers or to bail themselves out.”

He added: “I shudder to think what may happen to us in an environment where these people have access to us every day and every night.”

Shanghala indicated after court proceedings before Masuku on Friday that they will again file an urgent application after they have corrected the shortcomings in the previous application.

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