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The Fishrot Files

The week in corruption, 15 November 2019

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Transparency Int'l

Ifyou are a tourist travelling from Iceland to Namibia, it will take you around 22 hours with layovers in Norway and Qatar. If you are a company looking to clean some dirty money, however, you might fancy a (virtual) detour to the Marshall Islands to set up a shell company — it won’t even take you much longer.

This week, it turned out that Samherji, one of Iceland’s largest fishing conglomerates, seems to have done exactly this. A joint media investigation based on thousands of leaked documents (“The Fishrot Files”) revealed a textbook example of how legal loopholes and secrecy jurisdictions enable corruption and environmental exploitation on a global scale.

Samherji reportedly used an anonymous shell company in the Marshall Islands to launder the proceeds of illegal fishing activities off the coasts of West Africa and bribe members of the Namibian government. Two ministers have already resigned over allegations that they granted the company preferential access to fishing grounds in exchange.

The company allegedly used shell companies in other tax havens such as Dubai, Mauritius and Cyprus, too. Most of the money that flowed through these companies can be traced back to a bank account at Norwegian state-owned bank DNB NOR.

The Samherji case shows how badly we need banks to up their anti-money laundering game, and the importance of more active enforcement against foreign bribery. It also highlights the role that secrecy jurisdictions play in facilitating corruption when they allow the real, or beneficial, owners of companies to remain anonymous. Two years after the “Paradise Papers”, offshore tax havens are still open to all kinds of fishy business.

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