/ 9 June 2023

‘Paymaster’ in Namibian Fishrot saga granted R50 000 bail

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, 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, with conditions, in the Paarl magistrate’s court. 

De Klerk must be back in court on 25 September when the hearing on his extradition to Namibia will commence. 

The deputy director general of Namibia’s anti-corruption commission, Erna van der Merwe, told the Mail & Guardian that the entity respects the magistrate’s decision. 

“We trust the extradition trial will be dealt with swiftly, since our trial is due to start 7 October,” Van der Merwe said.

De Klerk is wanted by the Namibian government for corruption, fraud, theft and money laundering charges amounting to nearly N$130 million. His co-accused include Namibia’s former fisheries minister Bernhardt Esau, former justice minister Sacky Shanghala, former National Fishing Corporation of Namibia (Fishcor) chairperson James Hatuikulipi, former Fishcor chief executive Mike Nghipunya and 20 others. 

After a week’s court proceedings, senior magistrate Morajee Naik ruled on Friday that it was in the interests of justice that De Klerk should not be kept in custody, pending the application to have him extradited to Namibia. 

This was after the state gave evidence on Thursday stemming largely from an investigation conducted by Namibia’s anti-corruption commission. 

Investigative officer Captain Willem van der Heever, who is based at global police organisation Interpol’s national central bureau in Pretoria, said in an affidavit that De Klerk was a flight risk and “is likely to resume his unlawful activities”, should he be granted bail. 

Naik pointed out De Klerk willingly testified under oath and provided detailed information of his movements in and out of South Africa over the past three years. 

He said De Klerk had had “ample opportunity” to flee to any country when he was under a whistleblower protection programme in Zanzibar in 2021 “but chose to come back to South Africa”. 

The court noted the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and the South African Police Service’s failure to arrest De Klerk when a warrant for his arrest was issued in the Paarl magistrate’s court on 1 February 2022.   

“There is evidence that the NPA and senior members of the South African police were aware of his address and telephone number, as he was a complainant in a criminal case against Ben van Heerden. It is easy for the police to trace the whereabouts of any person only through a telephone number.”  

The state’s affidavit opposing bail did not support its stance that the matter was of international importance. In his findings, Naik remarked that De Klerk regularly visited the police and had contacted the directorate of public prosecutions in the matter with Van Heerden. 

The M&G reported two weeks ago that disbarred attorney Van Heerden had allegedly defrauded several people out of a conservative R6 million since 2016 before he was finally struck from the roll in November. 

De Klerk and another alleged victim of Van Heerden were scheduled to meet the NPA regarding charges they had brought against the lawyer but De Klerk was arrested halfway through the meeting in Paarl on 1 June. 

Christie Viviers, acting for the accused on Monday, described his client’s arrest as unconstitutional and an infringement on his rights. Viviers emphasised that De Klerk had willingly met investigating officers from the NPA when he was arrested. 

De Klerk maintained his innocence during his bail application on Wednesday, saying he had unwittingly participated in the corrupt activities of his co-accused in the Fishrot saga.

He was granted R50 000 bail on condition that he hand in both his Namibian and South African passports and report daily to the Groot Drakenstein police station.