Illegal Fishing Whistleblower Jóhannes Stefánsson Receives WIN WIN Gothenburg Sustainability Award For Exposing Bribery Scandal

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Icelandic whistleblower Jóhannes Stefánsson, who risked his life while uncovering the deep corruption connected to fishing quotas in Namibia and bringing to light several business and political leaders who were found to have links to a bribery scandal, has won the prestigious WIN WIN Gothenburg Sustainability Award

The WIN WIN Gothenburg Sustainability Award recognizes the efforts of people and organizations that fight corruption and pave the way for global sustainable development revolving around ecological, environmental, and social needs.Jóhannes Stefánsson wins this year’s award in prize of SEK 1M (approx.US$1.1M), which will be presented to him at the award ceremony in Gothenburg in October. 

During the period 2011 to 2016, Stefánsson worked and had a leadership position at Samherji, the Icelandic fishing firm named in his reports. After a while, he realized that the company was neck-deep in corruption with links to illegal procurement of fishing quotas in exchange for financial returns in Namibia. Stefánsson subsequently left his position as a form of protest against these activities.

When Stefánsson quit, he left with 30,000 data files on his computer that is the basis for the Fishrot Files, the beginning of which was published by WikiLeaks in 2019, revealing that Samherji bribed domestic officials to receive certain fishing quota amounting to several million dollars in just four years, with fishing company Fishcor, owned by the Namibian government, also connected to the scandal.

After the documents came out, Namibian minister of fisheries and marine resources Bernhard Esau and the country’s minister of justice Sacky Shanghala both resigned after they were found guilty of having links to the bribery scandal. In addition, several Icelandic actors and Namibian politicians were linked to the bribes.

In a press release seen by Green Queen, Stefánsson, said that he first started working on exposing the activities in July 2016, and it has come at a great cost. “When I left Samherji, it took me a while to understand what I had been through. But when I realised the magnitude of the financial crimes and corruption – how serious the consequences for the Namibian people were – I never hesitated about what I had to do. Therefore, it is a great honour to receive such recognition and to be awarded the WIN WIN Gothenburg Sustainability Award 2021. It also means important financial support that enables us to continue this ongoing fight that is far from over.”

I first started working on the revelation in July 2016, and it has been at a great cost. When I left Samherji, it took me a while to understand what I had been through. But when I realised the magnitude of the financial crimes and corruption – how serious the consequences for the Namibian people were – I never hesitated about what I had to do

Jóhannes Stefánsson

As a result of the files leak and the exposure of the corruption, Stefánsson has been harassed, threatened, and poisoned, but he continues to fight, demonstrating immense strength and resilience until today.

Jury chairperson Emma Dalväg, said: “Unfortunately, those with the courage to fight corruption and misuse of power most often have to pay a steep price, and there’s no exception for Jóhannes Stefánsson. With an unfaltering determination, Stefánsson has defied reoccurring harassment, threats towards his life and attempts on his life to keep up his fight. This is an individual who has overthrown an entire industry and strengthened justice for the people; a real hero, in other words, who we are proud to present as this year’s winner.”

According to the OECD, the World Bank and the IMF, every year, US$4000 billion is lost due to corruption and this can be directly linked to the US$2930 billion that is needed for the world to reach the U.N. SDGs. In addition, Agenda 2030 focuses on limiting corruption and bribery not through a goal, but through all 17 goals listed in the agenda. And if there is evidence of political corruption leading to mistrust in the government, it only becomes harder to plan and execute environmental policy reform.

With an unfaltering determination, Stefánsson has defied reoccurring harassment, threats towards his life and attempts on his life to keep up his fight. This is an individual who has overthrown an entire industry and strengthened justice for the people; a real hero, in other words, who we are proud to present as this year’s winner

JEmma Dalväg, jury chairperson, WIN WIN Gothenburg Sustainability Award

The jury further explains selecting Stefánsson for this year’s award. “Corruption is one of the greatest obstacles to global sustainable development. It affects the world’s most vulnerable the hardest and has a negative impact on society as a whole, as well as the planet itself.”

Read: A Recent Analysis Finds 40% Of 9,000 Fish Products Are Mislabelled In Restaurants & Fishmongers

Further exposing the lies and criminal activity inherent within the commercial fishing industry is recent Netflix documentary Seaspiracy, which dives into the fishing industry’s devastating impact on marine life, how it is making the plastic pollution crisis worse and puts forward the idea of sustainable fishing. Find our full review here.


Lead image courtesy of WIN WIN Gothenburg Sustainability Award.


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