The winner of WIN WIN Gothenburg Sustainability Award 2021, on the theme Anti-corruption was the Icelandic whistleblower Jóhannes Stefánsson.
Between 2011 and 2016 Jóhannes Stefánsson had a leading position in the Icelandic fishing company Samherji. After some time, it was clear to Stefánsson that the company was involved in widespread corruption connected to fishing quotas in Namibia. With thousands of data files on his computer, he left his position in protest. In 2019 WikiLeaks published the beginning of the ‘Fishrot Files’ – a revelation that came to shake business leaders and the political elite. Despite being harassed, threatened and poisoned, whistleblower Stefánsson demonstrates that individuals in the corporate world can join the fight against corruption.
– 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. 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, says Jóhannes Stefánsson.
The Jury is proud of their selection:
– 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, says jury chairperson Emma Dalväg.
“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.
Jóhannes Stefánsson is the whistleblower who exposed the ‘Fishrot Files’, an extensive corruption scandal with connections to Iceland and Namibia. In 2016 he stepped back from a leading management position within Icelandic fishing company Samherjis in Namibia, in protest against the company’s improper procurement of fishing quotas in exchange for financial services. Jóhannes Stefánsson has since been living under constant threats and even attempts on his life. His bravery highlights the importance of individual acts of integrity, not least within the sectors of industry and commerce. Jóhannes Stefánsson has demonstrated great courage and selflessness in his fight against misuse of power and corruption.
It is our honour to present this year’s WIN WIN Gothenburg Sustainability Award to Jóhannes Stefánsson.”
About the revelation ‘Fishrot Files’
Jóhannes Stefánsson had a leading management position in the Icelandic fishing company Samherji between 2011 and 2016. During his five years at the company, he learned about the ongoing corruption culture that was connected to fishing quotas in Namibia. When he chose to leave his position in protest there were 30 000 data files left on his computer. These files are the foundation of ‘Fishrot Files’, which three years later was published through WikiLeaks and sparked a great and important debate on corruption in the fishing industry.
The revelation shows how Samherjis paid bribes to domestic officials, so-called "sharks", to get specific fishing quotas. The bribes amount to several million dollars just over four years. Even the fishing company Fishcor, owned by the Namibian government, was connected to the scandal. In 2019 Namibian Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources, Bernhard Esau, and the country's Minister of Justice, Sacky Shanghala, resigned following allegations of bribery by Samherji. Even Icelandic actors have been linked to the bribes, corruption and Namibian politicians. Since the revelation, Stefánsson has been living a life with constant harassment and threats and attempts on his life.