The United Arab Emirates has charged a British Ph.D. student with spying in the Gulf country, as his wife on Tuesday called on Britain to defend his innocence.
Matthew Hedges stands accused of “spying for a foreign country, jeopardizing the military, political and economic security of the state”, UAE attorney general Hamad al-Shamsi said late Monday.
The 31-year-old, who was researching the UAE’s foreign and internal security policies after the 2011 Arab Spring revolutions, was detained at Dubai airport on May 5.
Hedges’ wife Daniela Tejada said Tuesday he has been “held in an undisclosed location in the UAE in solitary confinement” with limited access to the consulate and his family as well as no access to a lawyer until last week.
She said Hedges had been told last week he “was being charged with gathering information and sharing it with a foreign agency – the UK Government”.
Tejada called on the British government to “clarify publically that Matt is innocent of the charges and that there have been many falsehoods said about him”.
“This horrifying situation has been going on for far too long,” she said.
Britain’s foreign office said it was supporting Hedges and his family and had been “in close contact with the local authorities”, a spokesperson said.
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt told AFP last week he was “very worried” about Hedges’ fate.
“I’ve spoken to the Emirati foreign minister twice now on this matter face to face so they are very aware of our concerns and we are monitoring it very closely,” he said.
The charges against Hedges are based on evidence from investigations carried out by the public prosecution, according to the attorney general.
Hedges had been posing as a researcher to cover his activities, he said, adding that the accusations were backed by “information taken from his electronic devices”.
Tejada, who has visited her husband once and spoken to him on the phone several times, told AFP last week her husband “simply isn’t guilty of anything”.
“He was just doing academic research,” she said, adding that his research involved only open source material.
“He’s not disclosed anything… classified or confidential,” she said, adding that Hedges had lived in the UAE for “several years” before he returned to Britain in 2015.
The United Arab Emirates has selected its first two astronauts to go on a mission to the International Space Station, Dubai’s ruler said Monday.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashed al-Maktoum named the new astronauts as Hazza al-Mansouri, 34, and 37-year-old Sultan al-Neyadi.
Writing on Twitter, he said the duo “raise the bar of ambitions for future Emirati generations”.
Sheikh Mohammed, the UAE’s vice president and prime minister, last year vowed to send four Emirati astronauts to the space station within five years.
The UAE has its sights set on space with a programme worth 20 billion dirhams ($5.4 billion), according to Sheikh Mohammed.
The oil-rich Gulf nation has already announced plans to become the first Arab country to send an unmanned probe to orbit Mars by 2021, naming it “Hope”.
The astronaut programme would make the UAE one of only a handful of states in the Middle East to have sent a person into space, as it looks to make good on a pledge to become a global leader in space exploration.
The first Arab in outer space was Saudi Arabia’s Sultan bin Salman Al-Saud, who flew on a US shuttle mission in 1985. Two years later, Syrian air force pilot Muhammed Faris spent a week aboard the ex-Soviet Union’s Mir space station.
Mansouri and Neyadi, who were among more than 4,000 Emiratis to apply for the programme, were chosen after a rigorous six-stage vetting procedure.
In the long-term, the UAE says it is planning to build a “Science City” to replicate life on Mars and aims to create the first human settlement on the red planet by 2117.
The United Arab Emirates accused neighbouring Qatar of “intercepting” two Emirati passenger planes en route to Bahrain on Monday in the latest incident between the Gulf rivals.
Qatar denied the allegations as “totally baseless” and hit back that they came “one day after a C-130 UAE military aircraft breached Qatari airspace”.
Tensions have escalated in the Gulf since Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut all ties with Qatar in June, accusing it of supporting Islamist extremists and being too close to Saudi Arabia’s arch-rival, Iran.
They have banned all flights to and from Doha and cut off most trade links.
Qatar denies the allegations, arguing the bloc aims to incite regime change in Doha.
The UAE Civil Aviation Authority said it “received a message from a national carrier on Monday morning that an aircraft on a routine flight to Manama was intercepted by Qatari fighter jets”.
The authority said it was “a flagrant and serious threat to the safety of civil aviation and a clear violation of international law”.
“This is a routine flight that has all the required paperwork,” it said in a statement to the state news agency.
The UAE authority later said a second Emirati passenger plane bound for Bahrain was also intercepted by Qatari fighter jets.
It said the second plane was intercepted “during its descent towards Bahrain International Airport”, adding that it was also on a routine pre-scheduled flight.
The foreign ministry in Bahrain denounced the “unacceptable aggressive attitude” of Qatar.
Four UAE-based airlines — Emirates, Etihad, flydubai and Air Arabia — operate flights to Bahrain.
Spokespersons for the airlines contacted by AFP could not immediately confirm or deny the news.
Monday’s tit-for-tat accusations came after Qatar accused UAE fighter jets of violating its airspace in December and January.
Lolwa al-Khater, spokeswoman for Qatar’s foreign ministry, said Doha “intends to take legal action” over the latest alleged violation Sunday of its airspace.
“It appears that the UAE Civil Aviation Authority is trying, through false allegations, to overshadow the news of a UAE military aircraft breaching Qatari airspace,” a statement said.
Qatar is located in the Gulf, between Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates and across the Gulf waters from Iran.
As the latest tensions flared on Monday US President Donald Trump talked to Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani by phone “to discuss ways to strengthen United States-Qatar bilateral relations on security and economic issues,” the White House said.
“The leaders discussed areas in which the United States and Qatar can partner to bring more stability to the region, counter malign Iranian influence, and defeat terrorism,” the statement said.
United States President, Barack Obama is still making efforts to close the Guantanamo bay prison before he leaves office, as the United States says it has sent 15 detainees to the United Arab Emirates.
This is the largest single transfer during President Obama’s administration.
According to the pentagon, the transfer of 12 Yemeni nationals and three Afghans brings the total number of prisoners down to 61 at the US facility in Cuba.
Most of the inmates there have been held without charge or trial for more than a decade.
Obama revealed his plans to close the prison in February but many Republican lawmakers as well as some fellow Democrats have opposed his decision.
“In its race to close Gitmo, the Obama administration is doubling down on policies that put American lives at risk,” Republican Representative Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement.
“Once again, hardened terrorists are being released to foreign countries where they will be a threat,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Amnesty International’s U.S. Director for Security and Human Rights, Naureen Shah, said keeping Guantanamo open gave cover to foreign governments to ignore human rights.
“I think we are at an extremely dangerous point where there is a significant possibility this is going to remain open as a permanent offshore prison to hold people, practically until they die,” Shah told Reuters.
“It weakens the U.S. government’s hand in arguing against torture and indefinite detention”.
Former US President, George Bush opened it to accommodate foreign terror suspects after the September 11 attacks in 2001 on the US.
The Chief Executive of Panic Alert Security Systems, Mr George Uboh has condemned the manner in which the government has handled its recovery of looted funds.
He was on Sunrise Daily on Monday, reacting to the government’s decision to withhold names of persons involved in the list of recovered monies and assets released during the weekend.
He believes that concerned authorities are not being sincere with Nigerians in their handling of the anti-corruption campaign by the Nigerian government.
“If a minister on the run comes and says ‘look I have one billion Naira I want to return’, you don’t accept it without going through the criminal procedure,” he argued.
He explained that the removal of the sources of those monies meant that another government would not be able to ascertain that those persons who funds have been traced to have returned such monies traced to them.
He also accused the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) of holding on to some of the recovered funds as he had several documents to back up his claims, having worked for the government to trace looted funds.
“I was engaged by the federal government to trace funds trapped in financial institutions and within 27 days I traced in different currencies aggregate 324 billion Naira. So if the government is coming as a government saying they traced a little over a hundred billion in one year, you be the judge,” he said.
Mr Uboh’s engagement has since been revoked by the Attorney-General of the Federation but he insisted that by recent happenings, he had been vindicated on his past allegations against the EFCC and details of traced loots which he has made public on several occasions.
“I have always accused the EFCC, I have the evidence…and with this (his) engagement I have been able to find the monies EFCC is hiding and more.”
Appointed In Error
The Attorney-General of the Federation, in a letter published in the media had asked the President to disregard Mr Uboh’s published claims that he had traced the amount totalling 1.9 trillion Naira.
Mr Uboh claimed that he was aware of this and had taken it up with the AGF who told him that there had been a public outcry and other ministers had demanded that his engagement for the tracing of looted funds should be revoked.
The AGF’s letter also stated that Mr Uboh was engaged in error as he was later discovered to have been “previously convicted in the United States for bank fraud and was recently jailed by an FCT High Court for fraud related issues”.
Mr Uboh said that the most convenient excuse is for anybody to say he is an ex-convict but “If the evidence I proffered against the EFCC is fake, arrest me. If the evidence I have proffered regarding my tracing is fake, arrest me.
“What has that got to do with anything? Is he denying that he signed the engagement letter?” he asked. He clarified that he was not contesting the issue of the revocation of his engagement but was only insisting on the recovery of what he had traced during his engagement.
“I have the record, names, and account numbers of all the monies I traced…the government has to answer, why are these funds traced not recovered?
He would not deny his conviction as stated by the AGF but insisted that the case was in appeal as he was wrongfully convicted. He vowed that he would win the appeal and clear his name.
On his conviction in the US, he further said, “I am celebrating my conviction. You know why? Because my conviction elevated me to the status of all the idols I admire all over the world who have been arrested, detained, in some cases jailed for fighting corruption and injustice globally. It comes with the territory.”
Distortion of Records
Meanwhile, a legal practitioner, Emeka Onohwakpor, agrees with Mr Uboh’s demand that names should have been published with the funds and assets recovered.
Giving a slightly different perspective, he believes that the names should have been published in order to ensure proper record.
While Mr Oboh earlier suggested there might be a cover up, Mr Onohwakpor believes that the decision to withhold names is a loop hole for more fraud to be committed as there are possibilities that some persons are concealing information.
The lawyer also warned that the manner in which the recoveries were declared will allow for distortion of the records.
He added that anyone who indeed returned money after discovering that monies paid for services were stolen, cannot at the moment be sure if what they returned have gone to the government..
“If somebody who has been accused of looting funds refunds one billion dollars and only 500 million is declared, then there is a problem,” he said.
“We cannot just leave it to only one side declaring what they got. The side that gave, you even owe them a duty to say ‘I got this from Mr B’.
Mr Onohwakpor disagreed with the government’s stance that they might be liable to litigation if they publish names of persons they have recovered monies and other assets from.
He said that publishing a list of recoveries and their sources does not mean the persons mentioned have been tagged looters or have been declared guilty of fraud.
“And the issue of whether it is going to tarnish their image; I don’t think it comes in here because if the money you’re returning to the government is gotten through legitimate means you put your case out there. Nobody is accusing you.”
He also stated that a media organisation or the federal government would not be liable to any form of litigation for naming persons they recovered monies or assets from as long as they truly returned such money. “The point is, let it not be a lie,” he said.
He admitted that no one can be declared guilty until the courts say so but having returned money, the burden of proof swings to the person to proof his innocence.
He also dismissed the view that some persons were not aware that the sources of the monies they were paid for services were illegal arguing that being overpaid should have been an indication that the sources were fraudulent.
“The way forward is to create a level playing field. It doesn’t matter who is involved,” he advised.
The Federal Government has finally released the interim report on funds and assets recovered from individuals who looted the nation’s treasury.
According to a statement from the office of the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the total cash recoveries comes to the sum of seventy eight point three billion Naira; one hundred and eight five million point one US Dollars, three point five million Pounds, and eleven thousand Euros, from May 29, 2015 to May 25, 2016.
This comes after the Federal Government failed to publish the list of individuals and the amount stolen on May 29, as earlier promised.
The Federal Government made cash recoveries totaling N78,325,354,631.82 (Seventy eight billion, three hundred and twenty-five million, three hundred and fifty-four thousand, six hundred and thirty one Naira and eighty two kobo); $185,119,584.61 (One hundred and eight five million, one hundred and nineteen thousand, five hundred and eighty four US Dollars, sixty one cents); 3,508,355.46 Pounds Sterling (Three million, five hundred and eight thousand, three hundred and fifty-five Pounds and 46 Pence) and 11, 250 Euros (Eleven thousand, two hundred and fifty Euros) from 29 May 2015 to 25 May 2016.
In a statement in Lagos on Saturday, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, also disclosed that Recoveries Under Interim Forfeiture (cash and assets) during the period totaled N126,563,481,095.43 (One hundred and twenty six billion, five hundred and sixty three million, four hundred and eighty one thousand, and ninety five Naira, forty three Kobo; $9,090,243,920.15 (Nine billion, ninety million, two hundred and forty three thousand, nine hundred and twenty Dollars, fifteen cents; 2,484,447.55 Pounds Sterling (Two million, four hundred and eighty four thousand, four hundred and forty seven Pounds, fifty five Pence) and 303,399.17 Euros (Three hundred and three thousand, three hundred and ninety-nine Euros, 17 cents).
According to the statement, which is based on the interim report on the financial and assets recoveries made by the various government agencies from 29 May 2015 to 25 May 2016, the Funds Awaiting Return From Foreign Jurisdictions total $321,316,726.1 (Three hundred and twenty one million, three hundred and sixteen thousand, seven hundred and twenty six Dollars, one cent); 6,900,000 Pounds (Six million, nine hundred thousand Pounds) and 11,826.11 Euros (Eleven thousand, eight hundred and twenty six Euros, 11 cents).
It showed that Non-Cash Recoveries (Farmlands, Plots of Land, Uncompleted Buildings, Completed Buildings, Vehicles and Maritime Vessels) during the period total 239.
The following is the breakdown of the recovered cash and assets:
INTERIM REPORT ON FINANCIAL AND ASSET RECOVERIES MADE BY THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT OF NIGERIA FROM 29 MAY 2015 TO 25 MAY 2016
EFCC Cash at hand
Royalty/tax/payment to FGN account in JP Morgan account New York