/ 8 June 2023

Alleged paymaster in Namibia Fishrot saga claims attempts were made to kidnap or kill him

Maren de Klerk
Marén de Klerk, the man wanted by Namibian authorities for his alleged role as paymaster in the ongoing multimillion “Fishrot” corruption case, was on Friday granted bail of R50 000

Marén de Klerk, who has been sought by Namibian authorities since 2021 for his alleged role as paymaster in the multimillion rand “Fishrot” corruption case, has told the Paarl magistrate’s court that he fears for his life and will not receive a fair trial, should he be extradited. 

During De Klerk’s testimony for bail on Wednesday afternoon, the previously empty courtroom was filled with Namibian authorities, including officials from the office of the prosecutor general and its anti-corruption commission (ACC). 

The deputy director general of the ACC, Erna van der Merwe, was also present. 

But the delegates were tightlipped about proceedings and told the Mail & Guardian they were only present as observers.  

In his testimony, De Klerk made direct reference to Van der Merwe and the ACC, who he said, failed to keep his 477-page affidavit undisclosed when he couriered a file from South Africa to Namibia in April 2020. 

De Klerk’s affidavit implicates, among others, government officials in Namibia. 

The Fishrot accused include Namibia’s former fisheries minister Bernhardt Esau, the former Justice Minister Sacky Shangala, former Fishcor chairperson James Hatuikulipi, former Fishcor chief executive Mike Nghipunya, and 20 others. It is alleged that millions of state funds were funnelled into private pockets. 

De Klerk maintained his innocence on Wednesday, saying that he unwittingly participated in the corruption undertaken by his co-accused. 

The leaked affidavit presumably plays a key role in De Klerk’s belief that his life is under threat, which eventually led to his name change — from Marén to Michael — in January. 

The deputy director of public prosecution at the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), Tommy Bunguzana, who represented the state on Wednesday alongside advocate Marésa Engelbrecht, argued that De Klerk changed his name to evade justice. De Klerk denied this. 

De Klerk testified that he narrowly escaped four men who were going to “kidnap me or kill me” when he was admitted to a hospital in a Cape Town suburb after he had a nervous breakdown in January 2020. 

The men, according to De Klerk, could not provide documents saying why they were there for him and a nurse then denied them access.

Without providing particulars, he told the court that he received intelligence on separate occasions from former officers at the directorate for priority crime investigation (the Hawks) of threats against his life. 

The state is expected to start its opposing bail application on Thursday, after senior magistrate Morajee Naik denied any further postponements. 

The Hawks’ serious commercial crime investigation unit and Interpol arrested De Klerk on 1 June when he willingly attended a meeting with the NPA regarding a case in which he is one of the complainants

The arrest took place more than a year after the Paarl magistrate’s court issued a warrant of arrest for De Klerk on 1 February 2022.