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Alleged N3.4bn NIMASA Fraud: Witness says money expended on Intelligence gathering



…As Tanzania sentences Chinese ‘Ivory Queen’ smuggler to 15 years jail***

A Federal High Court in Lagos was on Tuesday told, that monies paid into the account of a Company, Penniel Engineering Ltd, charged alongside a former Director General of NIMASA, Patrick Akpobolokemi, was meant for intelligence gathering.

A witness, Mr Fredrick Ugor, who is a staff of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), indicated this while giving evidence under cross examination in the ongoing trial of Akpobolokemi and five others over alleged N3.4 billion fraud.

Other defendants were: Ezekiel Agaba, Ekene Nwakuche, Felix Bob-Nabena and a firm, Al-kenzo Ltd.; who were charged on a 22-counts of allegedly converting N3.4 billion belonging to NIMASA for their personal use.

Each had pleaded not guilty to the charges and were granted bails. The prosecution has since opened its case and is still leading evidences.

The witness (Ugor) had testified before the court on February 18 how various sums of monies were paid into the account of a company called Peniel Engineering Ltd by NIMASA’s Committee on intelligence (COI).

Under cross examination on Tuesday by second defence counsel, Mr Onyeke Edoka, the witness told the court that funds paid into the account of Peniel Engineering Ltd was meant for intelligence gathering.

Defence asked the witness: “As a witness who works in NIMASA, do you have anything to tell the court in relation to the charge and the second defendant?

The witness replied, “I am not in a position to do that”.

Defence then asked the witness if in the payment to Peniel Ltd, there was any intention to disguise the source of the funds and the witness replied “I would not know”.

Defence: “Will I be correct to say that when the money came in, you knew it was from the Committee on Intelligence?

Witness: “No, I knew it was from NIMASA.”

On whether there was any attempt to disguise the source of the money, the witness again replied that he was not in a position to know.

When defence counsel asked how the witness knew monies were to be paid, the witness replied, “because my boss told me that some money will come in for intelligence gathering.”

On whether he received any instructions from the second defendant to transfer, convert, or remove the funds from the jurisdiction of the court, the witness replied, “Not at all.”

Defence: “To the best of your knowledge, was the second defendant a beneficiary to any of the funds paid into the account?

Witness: “No.”

When defence counsel asked the witness if he was informed that the monies disbursed was for intelligence gathering, the witness replied in the affirmative.

Defence: “You were informed that the account will be used as a Special Purpose Vehicle to warehouse funds to be used for security related purposes.”

Witness replied:”That is what I have in my statement.”

Defence: “Will I be correct to say that you were aware of the security challenges the maritime sector was facing at the time the money was paid, such as hijacking, and sea piracy.

Witness replied “Yes”

When defence counsel retorted that in the statement of account of Peniel with all the entries and exits, non of them relates to the second defendant, the Witness replied “That is correct.”

Defence: “There was never a time you wrote a letter on Peniel letter head, requesting for monies to be paid”

Witness replied “No”.

When defence counsel asked if it was stated anywhere that Peniel was to carry out any security operations or for services in all of exhibits N1 to N15, the witness replied No.

Defence asked: “From your perspective will I be correct to say that there was a reduction in security operations at the time these payments were made”

At this point, the prosecutor, Mr Rotimi Oyedepo, raised objection on the grounds that the witness was in court to give evidence and not to express an opinion.

Justice Ayokunle Faji sustained this objection and asked defence counsel to rephrase his question.

Defence then asked the witness if he was familiar with maritime security issues in NIMASA between 2014 and 2015 and the witness replied “I am aware by virtue of my work”.

Defence: “Will I be correct to say that there was a reduction in these activities between 2014 and 2015”

Witness replied: “There were times we had constant attacks and other times few, so cannot categorically say that. ”

The court has adjourned until February 28 for continuation of trial.

According to the charge, the defendants were said to have committed the alleged offences between December 2013 and July 2015.

The offences contravened Sections 15 (1), (3), and 18 (a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibitions) Amendment Act, 2012. 

In the meantime, a prominent Chinese businesswoman dubbed the “Ivory Queen” was sentenced to 15 years in prison by a Tanzanian court on Tuesday for smuggling the tusks of over 350 elephants, weighing almost 2 tonnes, to Asia.

Yang Feng Glan had been charged in October 2015 along with two Tanzanian men with smuggling 860 pieces of ivory between 2000 and 2004 worth 13 billion shillings (5.6 million dollars).

However, all three denied the charges.

Police sources said Yang, 69, had lived in Tanzania since the 1970s and were secretary-general of the Tanzania China-Africa Business Council.

A Swahili-speaker, she also owns a popular Chinese restaurant in Dar es Salaam.

Kisutu Court Magistrate Huruma Shaidi sentenced Yang, Salivius Matembo and Manase Philemon, each to 15 years, after they were convicted of leading an organised criminal gang.

Shaidi ordered them to either pay twice the market value of the elephant tusks or face another two years in prison.

In court documents, prosecutors said Yang “intentionally did organise, manage and finance a criminal racket by collecting, transporting or exporting and selling government trophies” weighing a total of 1.889 tonnes. 

Foreign News

Israel passes law to shield Netanyahu from being declared unfit



Israel passes law to shield Netanyahu from being declared unfit

Israeli lawmakers on Thursday, passed a law to make it harder to declare Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as unfit to serve.

The first in a series of laws comprising the far-right government’s controversial judicial overhaul plan.

The bill was passed early in the morning after a heated overnight debate, with 61 members of the 120-seat Knesset (parliament) voting in favour and 47 against.

The remaining lawmakers either abstained or were not present for the vote.

It was approved despite warnings from Israel’s Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara, who said the law would shield the incumbent Netanyahu from being ousted over his corruption trial.

Under the new controversial law, a prime minister could only be declared unfit and forced to step down if three-quarters of the government’s ministers confirmed so due to the prime minister’s physical or psychological incapacity.

The new legislation was an amendment to a quasi-constitutional basic law that provided guidelines for dealing with a prime minister who was unable to perform their duties.

The vote came only hours before Israelis launch another day of nationwide protests against the judicial overhaul.

Since the start of 2023, hundreds of thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets across the country in weekly protests to oppose the government’s plan to weaken the Supreme Court.

The protest was also against the expansion of the powers of the government over the judiciary.

The crisis had sparked nationwide turmoil, with calls from within the military’s elite units to refuse to show up for duty in case the overhaul would be approved, unnerved high-tech investors, and drawn international criticism. 

– Xinhua

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Xi wraps up ‘constructive’ Moscow visit, no breakthrough on Ukraine



Xi wraps up ‘constructive’ Moscow visit, no breakthrough on Ukraine

Chinese President Xi Jinping was on his way back to Beijing on Wednesday after a three-day visit to Russia that saw the two countries ink agreements on extending their strategic partnership.

Xi said there is no sign of a breakthrough when it came to ending the war in Ukraine.

The several hours of talks between Xi and Russian President Vladimir Putin were dominated by Ukraine, as well as energy and trade issues.

Beijing’s recent peace initiative for Ukraine, which calls for a ceasefire but does not demand the withdrawal of Russian forces, was warmly received by Putin but continued to meet criticism among Western powers.

U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said that relations between Beijing and Moscow represent a “marriage of convenience’’ rather than a real alliance.

“If China wants to play a constructive role here in this conflict, then they ought to press Russia to pull its troops out of Ukraine and Ukrainian sovereign territory,’’ Kirby said.

He added that Xi needed to also speak to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

At a news conference, Xi said he had held constructive talks at the Kremlin on the second of his three-day state visit.

He pointed particularly to the expansion of economic cooperation with Russia.

Putin assured Xi of a reliable supply of Russian oil and gas in the long term and said a new Russia-China gas pipeline via Mongolia is in the works.

Russia has been shut out of much of the European energy market after the invasion of Ukraine a year ago.

Since then, Russia has sought out new customers and emphasised opportunities in Asia.

By 2030, gas supplies to China should rise to almost 100 billion cubic metres per year, Putin said.

In addition, 100 million tonnes of liquefied natural gas would be supplied, as well as coal and other energy sources. China would receive the energy at a discount.

Putin said Russia was ready to supply agricultural products to China, too.

Payments for goods in the Chinese currency yuan and in rouble were also to be expanded, Putin said, while the two countries also plan to expand their transport links by building roads and bridges.

Putin called the talks “warm and collegial.’’

Turning to Russia’s war on Ukraine, Putin again praised Xi’s proposal for peace, which has been met with deep scepticism in Washington and Europe.

“We find that many of the positions in the peace plan put forward by China agree with Russian approaches and could become the basis for a peaceful solution, once the West and Kiev are ready for it,’’ Putin said.

Xi said that China was taking an objective and impartial position on the conflict.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov said the two had discussed Ukraine for more than four hours on Monday.

“There was an opportunity to clear everything up,’’ Peskov said.

For international observers, however, China was by no means a neutral authority especially because the country, which is allied with Russia, has never condemned Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Nothing was disclosed about possible arms and ammunition deliveries from China to Russia a move that Washington and NATO said Beijing is considering.

In Brussels, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warned China against supplying Russia with weapons as this would be to support an illegal war.

NATO has not seen any proof that China is delivering weapons but the alliance has seen some signs that he has been a request from Russia, Stoltenberg said.

The top NATO official said providing arms was an issue that is being considered in Beijing and urged China not to do so.

Xi’s visit comes at an opportune moment for Putin.

It is the first by a foreign leader since the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant on Putin for alleged war crimes in Ukraine.

He was accused of unlawfully deporting children from Ukraine to Russia.

Russia says the children were being taken out of a war zone to safety.

For Putin, the visit from Beijing allowed him to show that he was not isolated internationally.

According to Russian analysts, Xi fulfilled his most important mission immediately upon arrival in Moscow.

His demonstrative support signalled to the West that Putin was here to stay, said political scientist Sergei Malakhov.

“China has effectively wiped away the question of international isolation,’’ Malakhov told Russia’s Vedomosti newspaper.

Xi said that it was in line with historical logic that he chose Russia for his first visit after his re-election because both large countries are neighbours and strategic partners.

The two allies issued a joint statement on international issues, showing where their interests align.

They called for an objective investigation into the Nord Stream 1 and 2 explosions and spoke out against U.S. dominance and in favour of a multipolar world order.

They also stressed that their strategic partnership was not a military-political bloc and not directed against other states.

Although China is economically benefiting from its partnership with Russia, Beijing is careful not to blatantly violate Western sanctions.

China is striking a careful balance between assuring stability and political support from its neighbouring country that it shares a 4,000-kilometre-long border.

Still leaving the door open for Europe, which is ultimately an even more important trade partner than Russia. 

– dpa

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China launches 4 meteorological satellites; as Xi extends condolences to Malawi, Mozambique



China launches 4 meteorological satellites; as Xi extends condolences to Malawi, Mozambique

….Over deadly tropical cyclone***

 China successfully sent four meteorological satellites into space from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in northwest China on Wednesday.

The satellites, belonging to the Tianmu-1 meteorological constellation, were launched by a Kuaizhou-1A carrier rocket at 5:09 p.m. (Beijing Time) and have entered the planned orbit.

They will be mainly used to provide commercial meteorological data services.

It was the 19th flight mission of the Kuaizhou-1A rockets. 

In another development, the Chinese President Xi Jinping has extended his condolences to the President of Malawi Lazarus Chakwera and the President of Mozambique Filipe Nyusi over the deadly tropical cyclone hitting the two countries.

In his messages sent on Monday, Xi said he was saddened to learn that Tropical Cyclone Freddy has caused heavy casualties and property losses in Malawi and Mozambique.

On behalf of the Chinese government and people, he extended deep condolences to those killed in the disaster and offered sincere sympathies to the bereaved families and the injured.

The Chinese president also expressed his belief that both countries are sure to overcome the disaster and rebuild their homeland.

– Xinhua

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