The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) is hoping that lawyer Marén de Klerk, who is wanted in Namibia on charges linked to the Fishrot fishing quotas fraud and corruption case, will be extradited from South Africa before the Fishrot trial starts in October this year.
This was said by ACC director general Paulus Noa when he reacted to news about De Klerk’s arrest at Paarl in South Africa’s Western Cape province on Thursday last week.
De Klerk (55), who left Namibia in January 2020, after he had been questioned by the ACC, was arrested in a joint operation by the South African Police Service’s Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation, known as the Hawks, and Interpol.
The fugitive lawyer is implicated in the transfer of nearly N$82 million allegedly stolen from Namibia’s state-owned National Fishing Corporation of Namibia (Fishcor).
“The arrest of Mr Marén De Klerk is a positive development. ACC has been urging for the arrest and extradition of Mr De Klerk to Namibia to come and join his co-accused in the Fishrot case,” Noa said.
He added: “We trust the extradition is not going to be prolonged since the case is set to commence in October 2023.”
De Klerk was the alleged paymaster in the Fishrot scheme. He has stated in an affidavit, made in April 2020, that two of the men charged in the Fishrot case, James Hatuikulipi and former attorney general and justice minister Sacky Shanghala, involved him in the transfer of funds that his law firm received from Fishcor to president Hage Geingob’s Swapo political campaigns and other expenses.
Noa said while the ACC respects the principle that De Klerk is innocent until proven guilty in a competent court of law, “our investigation proves that Mr De Klerk has a case to answer”.
“He must thus be brought before court to face prosecution on the fraudulent transfer of money from his law firm,” he added.
According to Noa, the money in question is linked to the Fishrot case and was paid into the trust account of De Klerk’s law firm.
Money channelled through accounts of De Klerk’s former law firm, De Klerk, Horn and Coetzee Incorporated (DHC) and De Klerk’s company Celax Investments Number One was allegedly diverted to six of the men charged in the Fishrot case – Hatuikulipi, who is a former Fishcor board chairperson, Shanghala, ex-minister of fisheries and marine resources Bernhard Esau, Esau’s son-in-law Tamson Hatuikulipi, former Fishcor chief executive Mike Nghipunya, and Pius Mwatelulo – or to entities of their choice.
A Windhoek magistrate issued a warrant for De Klerk’s arrest near the end of April 2021. In May 2021, justice minister Yvonne Dausab requested her South African counterpart to have De Klerk extradited from South Africa to Namibia to face charges of racketeering, fraud, corruption and money laundering in connection with the Fishrot case.
De Klerk has in the past denied any wrongdoing in connection with the Fishrot case.
In the sworn statement that he made in April 2020, he implicated some of the Fishrot accused and also businessman Adriaan Louw. He branded Louw as a key enabler of a joint fishing venture that tried to get access to Namibian fishing quotas valued at more than N$20 billion for a period of close to 30 years. Louw has denied any wrongdoing.
De Klerk appeared in the Paarl Magistrate’s Court on Friday, and is due to return to the same court today to get a date for a bail hearing.
According to the Mail and Guardian, De Klerk was arrested when he had a meeting with the Hawks and the police in connection with a matter in which he was allegedly conned out of millions of South African rands by a disbarred lawyer and alleged fraudster, Ben van Heerden.
Hawks spokesperson colonel Katlego Mogale said De Klerk had made a complaint that he enlisted the services of Van Heerden in 2020, unaware that the latter had been suspended from practising as an attorney in 2016 and was subsequently struck off the roll of attorneys.
De Klerk allegedly had an amount of more than R3 million deposited into Van Heerden’s trust account, and also deposited R280 000 for legal services into the same bank account.
“It was established that the suspect [De Klerk] is a fugitive from justice, sought by the Namibian authorities to stand trial for racketeering, fraud, corruption, and money laundering, after an arrest warrant and extradition notice were authorised by the Paarl magistrate in 2022,” Mogale said.
De Klerk was declared a fugitive from justice by a judge of Namibia’s High Court in a judgement delivered in August 2020.
Earlier this year, the Supreme Court dismissed De Klerk’s appeal against the High Court’s judgement.
After leaving Namibia, De Klerk has repeatedly stated in affidavits filed in the Windhoek High Court that he could not disclose his current whereabouts due to concerns about his personal safety.
According to him, those safety concerns are also the reason why he has not returned to Namibia.