A Federal High Court in Port Harcourt has sentenced two Lebanese to two years in prison each over $890,000 found in their possession.
The duo – Chamseddine Waell Mohammed and Dina Jihad Khali were said to have attempted to smuggle the foreign currency out of the country before they were arrested by the Nigerian Customs Service and handed over to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
In a statement issued on Thursday by EFCC Head, Media and Publicity, Dele Oyewale, the anti-graft agency secured their conviction before Justice I. M. Sani of the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt.
According to the statement, the Lebanese pleaded guilty to separate one count charge of money laundering preferred against them by the agency.
The offences run contrary to Section 2 (3) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2011 (as amended) and punishable under Section 2 (5) of the same Act.
At the court hearing, EFCC prosecuting Counsel, Aso Larrys Peters tendered some documents, which included a letter of invitation by Customs and statements of the defendants, as exhibits.
Similarly, a police officer and EFCC witness, Macaulay Olayinka, while being led in evidence by prosecution counsel, said the money recovered from the suspects had been deposited with the Rivers branch of the Central Bank of Nigeria for safe keeping.
“The said amount was found inside their Luggage on board a chartered flight with registration number 9HVFF to Lebanon.
“They were apprehended by the Nigeria Custom Service, Area One Command, Port Harcourt and handed over to the Port Harcourt Zonal office of the EFCC on August 12, 2020 for further investigation.
“The Convicts, Khali with Passport Number LR152975 (Republic of Lebanon) was arrested with $670,000 while Mohammed with Passport Number LR0356598 (Republic of Lebanon) had in his possession the sum of $220,000,” he said.
Thereafter, Peter urged the Court to sentence the defendants.
However, Counsel to the defendants, Paul Ejiga begged the court to temper justice with mercy as the defendants were first time offenders who have no previous criminal record.
Subsequently, Justice Sani sentenced the defendants to two years imprisonment with an option of fine of N1million each.
The judge also ordered the “undeclared amount” to be forfeited to the Federal Government of Nigeria.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has commenced the probe of two Lebanese who were arrested by officers of the Nigerian Customs Service for attempting to smuggle $890,000 out of the country.
The suspects; Dina Jihad Khali and Chamseddine Waell Mohmmed, were trying to smuggle the money through the Port Harcourt International Airport.
In a statement by the EFCC Head of Media, and Publicity, Dele Oyewale, disclosed that the suspects were arrested on Wednesday, August 12, 2020, and handed over to the Port Harcourt Zonal office of the commission for further investigation.
Speaking while handing over the two suspects, A.B Mohammed Olayinka, Customs Area Controller, disclosed that Khali with Passport Number LR152975 (Republic of Lebanon) was arrested with $670,000USD (Six Hundred and Seventy Thousand Dollars ) while Mohammed with Passport Number LR0356598 (Republic of Lebanon) had $220,000USD (Two Hundred and Twenty Thousand Dollars).
“They were both arrested while trying to board a flight to Lebanon”.
He further stated that the money recovered from the suspects, which they failed to declare to Customs, has been deposited with the Central Bank of Nigeria, Rivers State Branch, for safekeeping.
Principal Detective Superintendent Macaulay Olayinka, who received the suspects on behalf of the Zonal Head, thanked officers of the Customs Area Command for the synergy that exist between the Command and the EFCC.
He assured that investigation will commence in earnest, adding that the suspects would be charged to court as soon as investigation is concluded.
The Lebanese Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr Houssam Diab, on Thursday, walked out on members of the Nigerian House of Representatives Committee on Diaspora Affairs, at a meeting which lawmakers now say was informal.
Mr Diab was reportedly asked to appear before the committee to explain the alleged maltreatment of Nigerians in Lebanon.
The Ambassador is said to have walked out of the lawmakers because he was not expecting the level of media coverage given to what had been termed an informal meeting to strengthen ties between the two countries.
Reacting to the outcome of the meeting, the Minister of State Foreign Affairs, Zubairu Dada stressed that it was an informal meeting and the Ambassador was nice enough to join in.
According to the minister’s communique, there is no law that says the Lebanese Ambassador had to attend the meeting, but he came because he has an interest in the joint relationship between Nigeria and Lebanon.
Mr Dada noted that there are a lot of Nigerians in Lebanon, and there are many Lebanese in Nigeria, so it was pertinent that the meeting held to further reiterate that the Lebanese community and the Nigerian community will always stand together to ensure that justice and respect for human lives is a priority.
He stressed that the relationship between the two nations will help bring an end to modern day slavery.
Throwing more light on the earlier misunderstanding, the minister said though the meeting was meant to be an informal one, the Ambassador was not aware that such a meeting needed to be documented.
“Because of the law of diplomacy, he wasn’t expecting to have media there and it was immediately resolved that it was going to be an executive session,” Mr Dada stated.
The minister apologized on behalf of the Ministry and the country.
Thursday’s incident follows a recent event involving one Temitope Arowolo, who is said to be undergoing trial for alleged attempted murder in Lebanon.
Mr Dada revealed that Temitope will be home before the end of the week, adding that so many other Nigerians who want to come home from Lebanon will be availed the opportunity.
He said the ministry is also looking at the case of a Lebanese who is held in Illorin on charges of human trafficking.
The minister promised that collaborations will continue to ensure that Nigerians can go work in Lebanon legally, without being dehumanized.
He asked Nigerians to be vigilant and monitor what is going on around them, lest they fall prey to human traffickers.
The Lebanese Embassy has suspended the issuance of working visas to Nigerians.
This decision was made following the video of a Nigerian lady auctioned by a non-Lebanese person via social media.
In a communique signed by Abdur-Rahman Balogun, the spokesman for the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM), the decision is to checkmate the influx of some Nigerians to Lebanon to work, and complaints of maltreatment from some Nigerian domestic workers there.
Mr Houssam Diab, the Lebanese Ambassador to Nigeria said on Thursday that the Embassy has suspended issuing working visas to Nigerians seeking to work in Lebanon, particularly for domestic work.
He told the visiting Chairman/CEO of Nigerians in the Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM) Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa in his Abuja office that the mission suspended the issuance from May 1.
Amb. Diab stated that the suspension started since May 1, as a result of complaints of abuse by some employers, as well as the case of the video of Peace Busari, a Nigerian lady, auctioned for sale for $1000 on Social media in April this year, went viral.
He said the man who committed the act is not a Lebanese, but a Lebanese resident and has since been charged to court in Lebanon.
He said the suspension was to stem the tide for such categories of workers pending the time the procedure would be properly harmonized with the Ministry of Labour, in line with best practices of managed and orderly migration.
Thus far, the Ambassador said the Lebanese government in conjunction with the Lebanese community in Nigeria had brought back 69 out of 79 Nigerians allegedly stranded back to the country.
He explained that the remaining 10 Nigerians, who would be transported home soon after the Covid-19 lockdown, have some pending legal cases and would be repatriated home once they are through with their cases.
He clarified that the Embassy and the Lebanese community paid over $150,000 USD to evacuate the 69 Nigerians and also paid for their 14 days quarantine, adding that they were not in Lebanon illegally but were abused by their employers who also breached the working agreement and did not have money to bring them back.
He assured that the Lebanese government will not condone maltreatment of foreign nationals and anyone found guilty will face the necessary penalty.
Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa called on the Ambassador to ensure that whatever cases the 10 Nigerians left behind were being charged with, should be expeditiously dealt with so they can return home.
She said the Commission would work with the Ministry of Labour to have an effective and efficiently managed migration, a working scheme where verification and certification must be provided between agents, employers, and prospective employees that would protect the rights of workers in any country.
The Chairman commended the Ambassador for his assistance especially in evacuating 69 Nigerians and the safe release of the Nigerian lady who was advertised for sale on social media.
Corroborating the Ambassador’s disclosure about the lady who was put up for sale and safely rescued by the Nigerian mission in Lebanon, Dabiri Erewa confirmed that the rescued lady had secured another job in Lebanon and was not ready to return home for now.
The highlight of the meeting includes a resolution by both the Lebanese Ambassador and the Chairman, NiDCOM, to work for effective collaboration between the Lebanese Diaspora and the Nigerian Diaspora.
Lebanese protesters angered by a spiralling economic crisis clashed with security forces in the country’s north overnight as a months-old anti-government movement gained new momentum despite a coronavirus lockdown.
A 26-year-old protester died on Tuesday from a bullet wound he had sustained during the confrontations between the army and hundreds of demonstrators that rocked Lebanon’s second city of Tripoli.
Sixty people were injured, including some 40 soldiers, during the exchange which saw protesters throw stones at troops who fired live rounds into the air to try to disperse the angry crowds under clouds of tear gas.
The overnight violence was the latest in a string of anti-government protests and social unrest fuelled by unprecedented inflation that this week saw a free-falling Lebanese pound reach record lows against the dollar.
Angered by the financial collapse, demonstrators across Lebanon have rallied, blocked roads and vandalised banks for two days, re-energising a protest movement launched in October against a political class the activists deem inept and corrupt.
“I came down to raise my voice against hunger, poverty and rising prices,” Khaled, a 41-year-old protester, told AFP from Tripoli, adding that he could no longer support his three children since he lost his job selling motorcycle spare parts.
– ‘Social explosion’ –
Lebanon is mired in its worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war, now compounded by a nationwide lockdown to stem the spread of the coronavirus which has killed 24 people and infected almost 700 more.
The Lebanese pound has lost more than half of its value on the black market, where it traded at a record low of around 4,000 pounds to the dollar this week.
Economy Minister Raoul Nehme on Tuesday said that prices have risen by 55 per cent, while the government estimates that 45 per cent of the population now lives below the poverty line.
This has unleashed a public outcry against a government that has yet to deliver a long awaited rescue plan to shore up the country’s finances more than three months since it was nominated to address the crisis.
“No reform measures have been taken,” Sami Nader, director of the Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs, told AFP.
The only major step taken has been the suspension of Eurobond debt payments, he said, referring to a March announcement by the government that it would default on its sovereign debt for the first time due to dwindling foreign currency reserves.
With no clear government plan to exit the crisis, Nader said, Lebanon is heading “towards an inevitable social explosion”.
– Bank attacks –
Public anger has been increasingly directed at banks which are accused by protesters of helping a corrupt political class drive the country towards bankruptcy.
Lebanese banks, many of which are owned by prominent politicians, have since September imposed restrictions on dollar withdrawals and transfers, forcing the public to deal in the nose-diving Lebanese pound.
Since March, banks have stopped dollar withdrawals altogether, further fuelling public anger.
In Tripoli, the army accused demonstrators overnight of torching three banks, destroying several ATM machines and attacking an army patrol and military vehicle.
It said 40 soldiers were wounded and nine people were arrested.
In a later statement, it expressed “regret” at the death of Fawaz al-Samman who died after being hit in the thigh with a bullet.
His sister Fatima told AFP that she blames the army, which said it would open an investigation into the death.
The Association of Lebanese Banks said that commercial banks would be closed in Tripoli on Tuesday because of “attacks and acts of vandalism”.
In Beirut, a Molotov cocktail was thrown at a bank before dawn, according to the official National News Agency.
In the southern city of Sidon, protesters threw stones and fire crackers at the central bank headquarters late Monday, the NNA said.
Late Saturday, assailants lobbed an explosive device at a bank in Sidon.
The attack came a day after Prime Minister Hassan Diab said Lebanese bank deposits had plunged $5.7 billion in the first two months of the year, despite curbs on withdrawals and a ban on transfers abroad.
A group of Lebanese in Kano State have donated food items and other essentials worth over One Hundred Million Naira (N100m) as their contribution to the state palliative programme to the poor in the population as the world battles the COVID-19 pandemic.
Presenting the items to the state governor, Dr Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, the Consul General of the Lebanese Community in Kano, Mr Khalil Muselmani said the commodities include 30 Tonnes of rice and 2,000 packets of spaghetti.
Others are 1,000 bags of Dawavita of 1kg, 500 packets of Juice drinks, 1,548 Hand Sanitizers, 1,500 Protective Garments, 20 boots, 500 cartons of detergent, among other items.
“We are giving this in order to give a helping hand in alleviating some of the sufferings of those needy individuals in the state, during this situation,” he said, adding that they were glad to support the government and people of the state in taking proactive measures against the pandemic.
After receiving the items, governor Ganduje handed them over to the Chairman of Fund Raising Committee, Prof Muhammad Yahuza Bello.
Prof. Bello thanked the Lebanese Community, noting that they are always ready and willing to act in anything that has to do with the development of the state “Another good thing about our people here is that, even before the coming of this deadly COVID-19 crisis, our community is very much involved in helping the needy amongst us.
“Our Committee has also recently got another contribution from Poultry Farmers Association, that donated 2,000 cartoons of eggs. Which we have already given out to Children’s Home,” he stated.
Demonstrators in Lebanon blocked roads and trickled into streets across the country for a tenth consecutive day Saturday, defying what they said were attempts by Hezbollah to defuse their movement.
The demonstrators — who have thronged towns and cities across Lebanon since October 17 — are demanding the removal of the entire political class, accusing many across different parties of systematic corruption.
Numbers have declined since October 20, when hundreds of thousands took over Beirut and other cities in the largest demonstrations in years but could grow again over the weekend.
The chief of powerful Shiite movement Hezbollah on Friday called on his supporters to leave the streets, warning that any cabinet resignation would lead to “chaos and collapse” of the economy.
He also said that the protesters were being manipulated by “foreign powers” who wanted to leverage the unrest, shortly after his supporters clashed with demonstrators in Beirut.
His statement sowed divisions among Hezbollah supporters, some of whom were still protesting on Saturday morning.
Hassan Koteiche, 27, from a Hezbollah stronghold in Beirut, said he agreed with most of Nasrallah’s “excellent” speech, but had some reservations.
“This does not mean we are against his discourse but there is a divergence in opinion,” he told AFP.
“The main thing I disagree with is his belief that if the government or parliament falls then we would have no alternative,” he added.
“That is not true. We have alternatives. We have noble and uncorrupt people,” who can govern.
– ‘We will stay’ – Main roads remained closed across the country on Saturday morning, as the army tried to reopen key routes.
Northeast of Beirut, dozens of demonstrators formed a human chain to prevent the army from removing a dirt berm blocking a sea-side road.
In central Beirut, they sat cross-legged on a key artery that connects the capital to its suburbs and surrounding regions but the army later cleared them and opened the road.
Nearby, droves of volunteers swept streets and collected rubbish after protests went late into the night, with people dancing on the street and in and abandoned former movie theatre.
Demonstrators who had slept in tents near Martyrs Square, said they were still defiant on the tenth day of their protest movement, despite attempts by Hezbollah to rattle protesters.
“We will stay on the streets,” said Rabih al-Zein, a 34-year-old from the Shiite-stronghold of Tyre, which saw unprecedented demonstrations over the past week.
“The power of the people is stronger than the power of the parties,” he told AFP in central Beirut, adding that Hezbollah supporters would not keep them from demonstrating.
Lebanon’s largely sectarian political parties have been wrong-footed by the cross-communal nature of the largely peaceful protests.
Waving Lebanese flags rather than the partisan colours normally paraded at demonstrations, protesters have been demanding the resignation of all of Lebanon’s political leaders.
“All of them means all,” has been a popular slogan.
– Counter-demonstrations – In recent days, loyalists of Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) — a Christian party founded by President Michel Aoun — mobilised counter-demonstrations across the country, sparking scuffles with demonstrators and journalists.
The Iran-backed Hezbollah, considered a terrorist organisation by Israel and the United States, is the only movement not to have disarmed after Lebanon’s 15-year civil.
Hundreds of its supporters gathered in the group’s strongholds in Beirut’s southern suburbs and the southern cities of Nabatiyeh and Tyre on Friday after Nasrallah’s speech, brandishing party flags.
In central Beirut, they clashed with protesters, prompting riot police to intervene to break up the fight.
In Nabatiyeh on Saturday, dozens of anti-government demonstrators returned to the streets, with a protester saying he was counting on the army and security forces to protect them from party loyalists.
In a suburb north of Beirut, dozens of FPM loyalists staged a counter-demonstration to express their support for the embattled president.
Lebanon endured a devastating civil war that ended in 1990 and many of its current political leaders are former commanders of wartime militias, most of them recruited on sectarian lines.
Persistent deadlock between them has stymied efforts to tackle the deteriorating economy, while the eight-year war in neighbouring Syria has compounded the crisis.
More than a quarter of Lebanon’s population lives in poverty, the World Bank says.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has arrested one Abbas Lakis, a Lebanese for money laundering offence.
A statement from the anti-graft agency on Friday revealed that Lakis arrested by its operatives at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja.
The suspect was picked up following intelligence report that he had on him undeclared huge sums of monies aboard the Egypt Airline bringing him from the Kano Airport en route Lebanon.
“At the point of arrest, a thorough search on his luggage, uncovered $2,104,936 (two million, one hundred and four thousand, nine hundred and thirty-six dollars); £163, 740 (one hundred and sixty-three thousand, seven hundred and forty pounds); €144,680 (one hundred and forty-four thousand, six hundred and eighty euros),” the statement said.
Other currencies found with Lakis, according to the EFCC, include Riyal 391,838 (three hundred and ninety-one thousand, eight hundred and thirty-eight riyals), and CHF 3,420 (three thousand four hundred and twenty Swiss franc).
Also found in the possession of the suspect are Lira 435 (four hundred and thirty-five lira); £109,000 (one hundred and nine thousand Lebanese pounds); Dirhams 10,135 (ten thousand one hundred and thirty-five UAE dirhams); ¥10,000 (ten thousand Chinese yuan); and Riyal 10 (ten Qatar riyal).
The EFCC said Lakis would be charged to court as soon as investigations were concluded.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on Friday secured the conviction a Lebanese, Haytham Aldahrah, who was arrested at the Malam Aminu Kano International Airport in Kano State.
Spokesman for the EFCC, Mr Wilson Uwujaren, explained in a statement that the convict was arrested while trying to board a flight to Cairo.
According to him, Aldahra had refused to declare the sum of $105,000 and €65,000 respectively to the Nigeria Customs Service.
“Upon his arrest, Aldahrah declared the sum of $95,000 (Ninety-Five Thousand Dollars) but a search conducted on him, revealed that he was carrying a further sum of $105,000 (One Hundred and Five Thousand Dollars) which he concealed from the authorities,” the statement read.
Upon the arraignment of the convict on October 16, Uwujaren said he pleaded not guilty to the two counts.
However, Aldahrah was said to have changed cis plea to ‘guilty’ two days later.
“In view of his latest plea, prosecution counsel Mohammed Gambo urged the court to convict him accordingly. Justice Allagoa granted the prayer of the prosecution and convicted the defendant on the two counts,” the statement added.
The judge sentenced the convict to forfeit 50 per cent each of the undeclared sum he was found with – that is $52,550 and €32,250 to the Treasury Single Account of the Federal Government.
Lebanese voters went to the polls to elect their parliament for the first time in nine years Sunday, with top parties expected to preserve a fragile power-sharing arrangement despite regional tensions.
The Iran-backed Hezbollah movement and its allies could stand to reinforce their clout on the political game inLebanon, a small country clamped between war-torn Syria and Israel.
The election comes after a drawn-out political stalemate finally produced a new electoral law in 2017 that introduced a proportional list-based system.
The campaign passed without major incidents but security forces were out en masse across a country still sporadically rocked by attacks and with a history of political assassinations.
Queues of voters started forming outside some polling stations in Lebanon’s main cities even before they opened at 7:00 am (0400 GMT).
“It’s the first time I vote,” Therese, 60, told AFP outside a voting centre in central Beirut.
“I’ve come to support civil society because there’s nobody else I like in this country, but I doubt they will win,” she said.
In the southern city of Tyre, 28-year-old Jalal Naanou was also up early to support an unprecedented effort by civil society candidates to bring new faces to parliament.
“We came to vote and work for change, to see new lawmakers in parliament because, without it, our situation will stay the same or get worse,” he said.
More than 3.7 million Lebanese are eligible to vote and will choose from 597 candidates who are running on 77 closed lists for a seat in the 128-strong parliament.
Turnout will be crucial to a new civil society movement’s chances of clinching a handful of seats but analysts predict the traditional sectarian-based parties will maintain their hegemony.
“Will Hezbollah be the biggest winner? At the very least, it won’t be a loser,” said Imad Salamey, a political science professor at Beirut’s Lebanese American University.
Candidates mostly avoided the polarising issue of disarming Hezbollah, the only faction not to have laid down its weapons after the 1975-1990 civil war.
The Shiite movement may only gain a handful of seats but it will benefit from the predicted absence of a united bloc against it, Salamey said and could play the role of kingmaker in parliament.
The triumvirate heading the state is unlikely to change, with parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri, the octogenarian leader of the rival yet often allied Shiite party Amal, almost certain to keep the post he has held since 1992.
Civil society list
President Michel Aoun’s position is not up for renewal but his Christian party is a key player in the vote, for which a reformed, more proportional electoral law is in force.
The new lawmakers will play a vital role in appointing the next prime minister, with many expecting incumbent Saad Hariri to serve another term.
Hariri has historically been supported by Sunni regional kingpin Saudi Arabia while Hezbollah is backed by Shiite Iran, but both seem ready to continue sharing power.
The diagram of alliances across Lebanon’s gerrymandered constituency map is an almost comical spaghetti jumble of local deals between parties working together in one district and competing in the next.
That has fuelled already deep disillusionment in a country where the same dynasties have held political power for decades and are widely seen as self-serving and corrupt.
The force that embodies change is an alliance called “Kulluna Watani” which federates civil society groups, including a movement born of 2015 protests over a waste management crisis.
The most optimistic forecasts see them winning five seats, out of parliament’s 128, but its leaders privately say even just one would be an achievement.
“If turnout is higher than in the previous elections, it will mean more votes for civil society,” pollster Said Sanadiki.
But there were few signs during the campaign that voters would mobilise much more than usual, with one survey predicting only a one-point rise from the 2009 turnout rate of 55 percent.
The complex new voting law passed last year has allowed smaller parties to run but the challenge of rousing lethargic voters is huge.
The country has gone through institutional crises that left it without a president for two years and without a budget for 12 — but many Lebanese argue they could hardly tell the difference.
Polling stations are expected to close at 7:00 pm (1600 GMT) and results for all 15 districts could be announced as early as Monday.