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EFCC re-arraigns Indian for N32b bank fraud

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  • As IG orders arrest of black market petrol sellers

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) yesterday re-arraigned an Indian businessman, Patrick Fernandez, at the Federal High Court in Lagos for allegedly perpetrating a banking fraud involving N32 billion.

Fernandez, with three of his companies, is facing a 56-count of fraud. He pleaded not guilty to all counts.

He was re-arraigned because the judge handling the case, Justice John Tsoho, was transferred to Abuja.

A new judge, Justice Mojisola Olatoregun-Ishola, who was transferred from Asaba to Lagos, took over the case, to start afresh before her.

She will be the third to handle the case, which began eight years ago.

Fernandez was first arraigned before Justice A. R. Mohammed in 2008. But following his transfer, the case was re-assigned to Justice Tsoho.

One witness testified before Justice Mohammed; three testified before Justice Tsoho.

Justice Olatoregun-Ishola vowed to ensure the case is not further delayed.

“Counsel should not come and tell me that he has not had breakfast, therefore the matter should not go on,” she warned.

She said parties should be ready to comply with the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015, which provides for day-to-day trial.

Fernandez, previously represented by the late minister James Ocholi (SAN), hired a new SAN, Solo Aguma.

An EFCC investigator, Bashir Abdullahi, said the commission learned of the fraud when a bank contacted the agency’s Financial Intelligence Unit.

Testifying before Justice Tsoho, the witness said in July 2008, he was assigned to investigate the case of suspicious financial activities involving Fernandez and his companies.

The affected banks, he said, were Zenith, Afribank, Intercontinental, Union and Wema.

According to him, his investigations discovered high volume transactions from one account to another, all he said were fraudulent.

Abdullahi said: “Our findings was that he was involved in cheque-kitting and round tripping. It is also known as Lazy Susan, a business model.”

According to him, Lazy Susan involves members of a business group transferring money from one sister company to another without selling any commodity, using money obtained from banks as loans.

He said as at September 2007, the accused had less than N2 million in his account.

“The volume of transaction was also minimal, starting with N20 million. Within the same month, it rose to N600 million. The volume of this transaction also skyrocketed to billions of naira within three months,” he said.

The transactions, he said, involved the use of “suspended cheques,” which did not go through the clearing house.

“If he brings a cheque, credit will be given to him without going through clearance. Because he has a cheque discounting facility, if he brings N1billion cheque, they will give him N800 million,” Abdullahi said.

Justice Olatoregun-Ishola adjourned till June 20, 21 and 22 for commencement of trial.

In the meantime, Inspector-General of Police (IGP) Solomon Arase has directed Zonal Assistant Inspectors-General of Police (AIG), FCT’s and other state commands’ Commissioners of Police (CP) to arrest anybody found selling petroleum products in plastic containers.

The Police High Command explained that the order became imperative following untold suffering and hazard emanating from the activities of black marketers.

The IGP noted that the act has led to fire outbreaks, thereby rendering many people homeless.

He spoke through Force spokesperson, Olabisi Kolawole, in a statement in Abuja yesterday.

The statement said: “Apart from the hardship this act is causing to fuel buyers, it has also rendered some innocent and law-abiding citizens homeless due to fire outbreak from jerry can petrol storage.”

Arase, while warning fuel attendants at filling stations to desist from selling petrol inside jerry-can and plastic containers, added that the buyers and the sellers of the products, if caught, would be arrested and prosecuted.

He noted that fuel products such as petrol are highly flammable and if not stored and handled properly, “can seriously endanger people, property and the environment”.

The IGP, who assured Nigerians of Police readiness to fulfill their constitutional mandate, solicited for a cordial relationship between the Force and the citizens.

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WAIVER CESSATION: Igbokwe urges NIMASA to evolve stronger collaboration with Ships owners

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…Stresses the need for timely disbursement of N44.6billion CVFF***

Highly revered Nigerian Maritime Lawyer, and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mike Igbokwe has urged the Nigeria Maritime Administration and safety Agency (NIMASA) to partner with ship owners and relevant association in the industry to evolving a more vibrant merchant shipping and cabotage trade regime.

Igbokwe gave the counsel during his paper presentation at the just concluded two-day stakeholders’ meeting on Cabotage waiver restrictions, organized by NIMASA.

“NIMASA and shipowners should develop merchant shipping including cabotage trade. A good start is to partner with the relevant associations in this field, such as the Nigeria Indigenous Shipowners Association (NISA), Shipowners Association of Nigeria (SOAN), Oil Trade Group & Maritime Trade Group of the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA).

“A cursory look at their vision, mission and objectives, show that they are willing to improve the maritime sector, not just for their members but for stakeholders in the maritime economy and the country”.

Adding that it is of utmost importance for NIMASA to have a through briefing and regular consultation with ships owners, in other to have insight on the challenges facing the ship owners.

“It is of utmost importance for NIMASA to have a thorough briefing and regular consultations with shipowners, to receive insight on the challenges they face, and how the Agency can assist in solving them and encouraging them to invest and participate in the maritime sector, for its development. 

“NIMASA should see them as partners in progress because, if they do not invest in buying ships and registering them in Nigeria, there would be no Nigerian-owned ships in its Register and NIMASA would be unable to discharge its main objective.

The Maritime lawyer also urged NIMASA  to disburse the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF)that currently stands at about N44.6 billion.

“Lest it be forgotten, what is on the lips of almost every shipowner, is the need to disburse the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (the CVFF’), which was established by the Coastal and Inland Shipping Act, 2003. It was established to promote the development of indigenous ship acquisition capacity, by providing financial assistance to Nigerian citizens and shipping companies wholly owned by Nigerian operating in the domestic coastal shipping, to purchase and maintain vessels and build shipping capacity. 

“Research shows that this fund has grown to about N44.6billion; and that due to its non-disbursement, financial institutions have repossessed some vessels, resulting in a 43% reduction of the number of operational indigenous shipping companies in Nigeria, in the past few years. 

“Without beating around the bush, to promote indigenous maritime development, prompt action must be taken by NIMASA to commence the disbursement of this Fund to qualified shipowners pursuant to the extant Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (“CVFF”) Regulations.

Mike Igbokwe (SAN)

“Indeed, as part of its statutory functions, NIMASA is to enforce and administer the provisions of the Cabotage Act 2003 and develop and implement policies and programmes which will facilitate the growth of local capacity in ownership, manning and construction of ships and other maritime infrastructure. Disbursing the CVFF is one of the ways NIMASA can fulfill this mandate.

“To assist in this task, there must be collaboration between NIMASA, financial institutions, the Minister of Transportation, as contained in the CVFF Regulations that are yet to be implemented”, the legal guru highlighted further. 

He urged the agency to create the right environment for its stakeholders to build on and engender the needed capacities to fill the gaps; and ensure that steps are being taken to solve the challenges being faced by stakeholders.

“Lastly, which is the main reason why we are all here, cessation of ministerial waivers on some cabotage requirements, which I believe is worth applause in favour of NIMASA. 

“This is because it appears that the readiness to obtain/grant waivers had made some of the vessels and their owners engaged in cabotage trade, to become complacent and indifferent in quickly ensuring that they updated their capacities, so as not to require the waivers. 

“The cessation of waivers is a way of forcing the relevant stakeholders of the maritime sector, to find workable solutions within, for maritime development and fill the gaps in the local capacities in 100% Nigerian crewing, ship ownership, and ship building, that had necessitated the existence of the waivers since about 15 years ago, when the Cabotage Act came into being. 

“However, NIMASA must ensure that the right environment is provided for its stakeholders to build and possess the needed capacities to fill the gaps; and ensure that steps are being taken to solve the challenges being faced by stakeholders. Or better still, that they are solved within the next 5 years of its intention to stop granting waivers”, he further explained. 

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Breaking News: The Funeral Rites of Matriarch C. Ogbeifun is Live

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The Burial Ceremony of Engr. Greg Ogbeifun’s mother is live. Watch on the website: www.maritimefirstnewspaper.com and on Youtube: Maritimefirst Newspaper.

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Wind Farm Vessel Collision Leaves 15 Injured

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…As Valles Steamship Orders 112,000 dwt Tanker from South Korea***

A wind farm supply vessel and a cargo ship collided in the Baltic Sea on Tuesday leaving 15 injured.

The Cyprus-flagged 80-meter general cargo ship Raba collided with Denmark-flagged 31-meter wind farm supply vessel World Bora near Rügen Island, about three nautical miles off the coast of Hamburg. 

Many of those injured were service engineers on the wind farm vessel, and 10 were seriously hurt. 

They were headed to Iberdrola’s 350MW Wikinger wind farm. Nine of the people on board the World Bora were employees of Siemens Gamesa, two were employees of Iberdrola and four were crew.

The cause of the incident is not yet known, and no pollution has been reported.

After the collision, the two ships were able to proceed to Rügen under their own power, and the injured were then taken to hospital. 

Lifeboat crews from the German Maritime Search and Rescue Service tended to them prior to their transport to hospital via ambulance and helicopter.

“Iberdrola wishes to thank the rescue services for their diligence and professionalism,” the company said in a statement.

In the meantime, the Hong Kong-based shipowner Valles Steamship has ordered a new 112,000 dwt crude oil tanker from South Korea’s Sumitomo Heavy Industries Marine & Engineering.

Sumitomo is to deliver the Aframax to Valles Steamship by the end of 2020, according to data provided by Asiasis.

The newbuild Aframax will join seven other Aframaxes in Valles Steamship’s fleet. Other ships operated by the company include Panamax bulkers and medium and long range product tankers.

The company’s most-recently delivered unit is the 114,426 dwt Aframax tanker Seagalaxy. The naming and delivery of the tanker took place in February 2019, at Namura Shipbuilding’s yard in Japan.

Maritime Executive with additional report from World Maritime News

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