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Migrant crisis: EU ‘to grant Turkey visa-free travel’

Written by Maritime First
  • As EFCC traces Diezani’s $115m bribe to stolen oil

The European Commission will grant Turkey conditional approval for visa-free travel within the EU’s Schengen area, sources have told the BBC.

The move is part of a deal in which Turkey has agreed to take back migrants who have crossed the Aegean to Greece.

But Turkey must still meet EU criteria, BBC Europe Editor Katya Adler says, and the deal must be approved by the European Parliament and member states.

The EU fears that without a visa deal, Turkey will not control migration.

The huge numbers of migrants and refugees arriving in Europe from Turkey, and from North Africa, has caused a political crisis among EU states.

A formal annoucement from the European Commission is due on Wednesday.

If the European Commission (the EU’s executive body) does make the recommendation this Wednesday that Turks be granted visa-free travel in Europe’s Schengen area, as whispers from well-placed EU sources suggest, then it will be doing so holding its nose and its breath.

The freedom of speech; the right to a fair trial and revising terrorism legislation to better protect minority rights – these are just some of the criteria demanded by the EU of countries before it lifts visa requirements even for short-term travel.

It is hard to see how Turkey could be described as meeting these conditions. Ankara increasingly cracks down on its critics in a manner more autocratic than democratic.

But these are desperate times for the EU. The European Commission and most EU governments are under huge public pressure to ease the migrant crisis.

My sources say the commission will therefore keep to the agreed script. But they insist this is no blank cheque. Turkey will get the green light over visas this week to keep it sweet. But it will also be informed of the outstanding criteria it still needs to meet.

Under the EU-Turkey agreement, migrants who have arrived illegally in Greece since 20 March are to be sent back to Turkey if they do not apply for asylum or if their claim is rejected.

For each Syrian migrant returned to Turkey, the EU is to take in another Syrian who has made a legitimate request.

Human rights groups question the deal’s legality and argue that Turkey is not a safe place to return people to.

Last month, however, European Council President Donald Tusk said the deal had begun to produce results.

He praised the Turkish government as “the best example in the world on how to treat refugees”, despite criticism by rights groups of the agreement.

At the same time, Turkish PM Ahmed Davutoglu said his country had fulfilled its part of the agreement and that the issue of the visa waiver for the EU’s Schengen area was “vital” for Turkey.

The agreement says Turkey must meet 72 conditions by 4 May to earn access by the end of June, subject to full EU approval, but diplomats have said that only about half of those points have been met so far.

In the meantime, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) believes the money came from proceeds of stolen crude oil.

“Our operatives have discovered that the $115 million came from stolen crude oil. They got it from former Petroleum Resources Minister Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke,” a top EFCC official said yesterday.

The official pleaded not to be named because of what he described as the “sensitivity of the matter”.

He added: “We will uncover how they came about the stolen crude oil and those used to siphon the oil in order to deny the nation of revenue.”

The EFCC has frozen all the accounts of top officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and oil chiefs implicated in the $115m (N23.29b) bribery.

This, said another source, is in preparation for the arraignment of some suspects, including Fidelity Bank Managing Director Nnamdi Okonkwo.

Charges might also be preferred against Mrs. Alison-Madueke, who investigators believe is central to the coordination of the huge bribe given to poll officials to alter the 2015 presidential election results.

Besides, the EFCC plans to arrest owners of oil companies believed to have contributed the cash because they have failed to report for interrogation.

“Our operatives are on the trail of members of the cartel behind the theft of crude.

“We have blocked all the accounts of all the INEC officials, bank officials and oil chiefs connected with the poll bribery scandal,” the source said.

Also yesterday, The Nation learnt that the embattled Resident Electoral Commissioner of INEC in Cross River State, Mrs. Gesil Khan, was granted administrative bail on Sunday.

She is expected to report at the EFCC office today as part of the conditions for the bail.

Others have also been granted bail, pending their trial.

Mrs. Khan is to be reporting to the EFCC’s office on scheduled dates agreed with her.

On the owners of the oil firms allegedly involved in the scandal, the top EFCC source added: “We have quizzed  Leno Adesanya but it is apparent that we have to arrest others this week because they have refused to show up for interrogation.

“Certainly, we are closing in on more suspects whom we will pick up before the week runs out.”

As at last night, the EFCC was finalizing plans to arraign some suspects on the bribery.

Those pencilled for trial are Diezani (in absentia), Okonkwo and Fidelity Bank’s Head of Operations, Martin Izuogbe, Mrs Khan (for collecting  N185, 842,000 out of a N681million bribe); Fidelia Omoile( Electoral Officer in Isoko-South Local Government Area of Delta State)—N112,480,000 ; Uluochi Obi Brown( INEC’s Administrative Secretary in Delta State)—N111,500,000; a former Deputy Director  of INEC in Cross River State, Edem Okon Effanga—N241,127,000 and the Head of Voter Education in INEC in Akwa Ibom, Immaculata Asuquo—N214,127,000.

The source added: “Very soon, we will arraign them in court. Some of them have admitted that they shared out of the bribe sum. Having recovered more than  N408.7million from some of the beneficiaries of the slush funds, we are set for trial.

“As for the bank, it even refunded N49.7m profit made from the deal. With this, the culpability of the bank is not doubtful at all.

“Since we have blocked  or frozen some accounts, we can recover these ill-gotten cash through court process.”

BBC with additional report from Nation

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Maritime First