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Iceland: Company embroiled in the Fishrot Files scandal exposed to be resorting to dirty tactics against critics

Transparency International is deeply concerned over recent reports that Samherji, Iceland’s major fisheries company, sought to intimidate and smear journalists and civil society reporting on the allegations that the company bribed foreign officials. According to fresh revelations, the company’s self-styled ‘guerrilla division’ collected personal information on independent actors, including Transparency International Iceland, to undermine their credibility.

The leaked emails and chat logs – some from as recently as several weeks ago – reportedly show that Samherji also attempted to influence the outcome of the journalists’ union chair elections. In one published excerpt from the leak, the company representative wrote of their wish of “stabbing, twisting and sprinkling salt on the wound” of the critics.

Samherji is at the heart of the Fishrot Files scandal, first reported in 2019, which implicates the company in the bribery of government officials in Angola and Namibia for fishing quota rights. In the aftermath of the scandal, Iceland dropped six points on the 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index.

The company denied wrongdoing but resorted to attacks on journalists and other independent voices, as evidenced also by the new reports showing its representatives openly discuss strategies to counter negative coverage.

“Companies that want to prove their integrity do not employ dirty tactics against those who report on facts, and do so in the public interest,” said Daniel Eriksson, Chief Executive Officer of Transparency International Secretariat. “It is incomprehensible that Samherji collected personal information to smear the reputation of Transparency International Iceland and other independent voices. Iceland needs a vibrant and protected civil society to hold power to account, wherever that power lies.”

The leak reportedly also shows that Samherji planned to intimidate Jóhannes Stefánsson, its former employee and whistleblower. Stefánsson revealed in 2020 that he had suffered attempts on his life since the Fishrot Files scandal came to light, though it is unclear where those originated from.

In response to the latest revelations, Transparency International Iceland called for a broad coalition of society to safeguard democracy and freedom of expression in the country.

Transparency International stands in solidarity with our national chapter in Iceland and the Icelandic public, at large. The authorities must promptly investigate reported allegations and hold Samherji and its representatives accountable, should any misconduct be confirmed.

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Transparency International Secretariat

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