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Ali fails to appear at Senate

Written by Maritime First
  • Chamber meets under closed-door
  • As ICC jails ex-Congo VP for bribing witnesses

The Comptroller-General of Nigerian Customs Service, Col. Hameed Ali (retd), on Wednesday, failed to appear before the Senate, contrary to a directive of the upper chamber.

The senate had on Thursday asked Ali to appear before it at 10 a.m. on Wednesday in Customs uniform to explain the rationale for directing that vehicle owners should be pay duty on their cars.

Prompted by Ali’s seeming disrespect by refusing to appear before the senate as directed, senators at exactly 10.32 a.m. went into a closed-door session apparently to assess the situation and make a resolution.

The senators had on Thursday, turned back the comptroller-general from the chamber for not appearing in uniform, and rescheduled his appearance to Wednesday, with definte position that he should appear in Comptroller-General of Customs uniform.

The senate had first invited Ali to appear before it on March 8  to brief it on the proposed policy for payment of Customs Duty by vehicles owners, no matter the age of the vehicle.

However, Ali did not honour the invitation on the ground that he had a management meeting.

Not satisfied with the reason, the senate issued a warrant mandating Ali to appear on March 16.

But, on Tuesday, Ali told State House correspondents that he would not be at the senate, citing advice from the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) as reason for his decision.

He said that he had written to the senate on the development, explaining that a case had been instituted at the court on the matter.

He said the AGF wrote to him, asking him and all parties to stay action on his summon to appear at the Senate in uniform, pending the determination of an originating summons filed by one Mohammed Ibrahim.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) gathered from a reliable source in the National Assembly that though the appearance of the CG was listed as the fourth item on Wednesday’s Order Paper, he would not appear before the senate.

The item on the Order Paper was captioned “Briefing by the Comptroller-General of the Customs and Excise’’ and slated to be moved by the Leader of the Senate, Sen. Ahmed Lawan.

In the meantime, judges on Wednesday sentenced former Congolese vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba to a year in jail and fined him 300,000 euros for bribing witnesses during his war crimes trial in an unprecedented case before the International Criminal Court.

“The chamber imposes on you an additional 12 months, one year, imprisonment,” presiding judge Bertram Schmitt told Bemba, adding a “substantial fine” was necessary “to discourage this kind of behaviour”.

Prosecutors had asked for eight years for Bemba, who is already serving 18 years after being convicted of war crimes by his marauding troops, who he sent into the Central African Republic in 2002 to 2003 to put down a coup against the then president.

Found guilty last year of bribery, the verdict and sentence are the first of their kind in the history of the ICC.

Bemba was found guilty in October of masterminding a network to bribe and manipulate at least 14 key witnesses, and had “planned, authorised, and approved the illicit coaching” of the witnesses to get them to lie at his main trial.

The heavy-set Bemba, 54, wearing a dark suit and light blue shirt, showed no emotion on Wednesday as the additional sentence was imposed by Schmitt in the heavily protected courtroom in The Hague.

The year-long sentence will run consecutively to his 18 years’ jail time.

Bemba’s lawyer Aime Kilolo received the heaviest sentence among four of the former vice president’s associates, handed two years and six months for “abuse of trust” as well as “abuse of the lawyer-client privilege”.

He was also ordered to pay a 30,000-euro ($32,000) fine.

Bemba’s legal case manager Jean-Jacques Mangenda received two years; Narcisse Arido, a defence witness was given 11 months and Congolese lawmaker Fidele Babala was given six months.

All the sentences were well below what the prosecution had requested and none except for Bemba will effectively spend time behind bars, as the judge gave credit for time already spent in the ICC’s detention centre.

They also suspended Kilolo and Mangenda’s sentences for three years.

NAN with additional report from Punch

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