The longstanding enmity between Icelandic fishing company Samherji and Iceland’s state broadcaster RÚV is in no danger of fading away as a new and very public confrontation between the two has taken place online in the last few days.
It has been a turbulent few months for Samherji since the RÚV documentary alleging large-scale wrongdoing by the company in Namibia was aired on television, followed by arrests of prominent Namibian officials who remain in custody.
Prior to that was the Central Bank case, when Samherji was thoroughly – and inconclusively – investigated for financial misconduct, the trigger for which was allegations made by the RÚV Kastljós news analysis programme of irregularities concerning foreign currency transactions with seafood products sold to a subsidiary at an artificially low price.
Now Samherji has gone back to the origins of the seven-year feud between the company and the Central Bank, taking the unprecedented step of producing and publishing online its own 12-minute documentary – The Report That Never Was.
RÚV reporter Helgi Seljan is reported in the documentary as having admitted that a report from the Pricing Directorate on which he based his initial work in fact never existed, speaking during a covertly recorded conversation with a Samherji employee.
Samherji also states that it has received confirmation from a former staff member at the directorate, confirming that this report never existed.
‘I have reviewed all the documents in the case that at one time concerned the redfish investigation of the Directorate and contacted a former employee of the Directorate who investigated this case with me. No report was prepared,’ the company states it was informed by a manager at the Directorate in April this year.
Helgi Seljan is also one of the reporters closely involved in the Fishrot documentary aired last year which levelled accusations against Samherji regarding its conduct in Namibia.
‘RÚV and Helgi Seljan’s conduct has caused significant damage to individuals and companies. It is therefore essential that the public has knowledge of the information covered in the documentary,’ Samherji stated.
When is a report not a report?
Following the media furore over the last few days, the Pricing Directorate issued a statement, detailing that it had in fact collated data on redfish exports 2010-2012, which was sent to committee members as an excel file, prepared by a Directorate member of staff based on information from the Directorate of Fisheries.
‘No special report was prepared by the Pricing Directorate and there was no substantive commentary on the information collated and sent to the committee. But it should be reiterated that this was confidential information,’ the Directorate states – which begs the question of what does or does not constitute a report?
Journalist Helgi Seljan has been quick to to respond to the Samherji accusations.
‘The report in question, which was three pages and signed by the then director of the Pricing Directorate, was certainly made available to the Central Bank, which requested and received a copy,’ he said.
‘It’s clear to anyone what the genuine reason for this campaign is,’ he commented.
‘First it’s to wreck the reputation of a journalist with the worst possible accusations of professional misconduct – but what is more important is that this is about deflecting attention away from the fact that Thorsteinn Már Baldvinsson and his staff are the subject of an extensive criminal investigation and have so far failed to answer key questions about the conduct of the company overseas.’
Both the Icelandic Union of Journalists and senior figures at state broadcaster RÚV have condemned Samherji’s accusations.
‘In short, there’s no substance to the Samherji accusations. The aim of this shit-stirring is to blacken the reputation of the country’s finest journalist and to intimidate the media,’ commented Kveikur editor Thóra Arnórsdóttir, while RÚV director general Stefán Eiríksson and news editor Rakel Thorbergsdóttir stated that it is unprecedented for a ‘large company to pursue a personal vendetta against a journalist with decades of experience.’
Samherji states that it has carried out its own internal investigation into the Namibia allegations, conducted Norwegian legal company Wikborg Rein. The findings have yet to be made public, beyond stating that ‘from the outset we knew that some allegations were outrageous and without basis in reality.’
‘We have a need to comment in more detail on the contents of the findings and to rebut allegations that we reacted strongly to when they were made against us last year,’ commented chair of the Samherji board Eiríkur Jóhannsson, who added that the company’s operations in Namibia were a loss-making venture.
‘We have respected the integrity of the investigation and left many allegations publicly unanswered despite an urge to comment on them. We equally respect the integrity of still ongoing public investigations. But we will in the coming weeks take a stronger and more vocal stand publicly also in relation to concrete details. Samherji firmly denies that its management ever intended for any subsidiary to engage in wrongful activity, including bribery or money laundering, in order to achieve benefits and will rigorously rebut any further allegation to this effect.’