Investigative reporter, Emmanuel Mayah, discovers how crude stolen from terminals and pipelines in Nigeria finds its way to the triangle.
The trade is brazen. The loot is huge. There is even a secondary market of Togolese hotels that benefit from the influx of foreigners who disguise as tourists to take a slice from the Nigerian cake, a freebie through corruption.
Togo, a tiny West African country, does not produce oil. It has no oil deposit under land or water. Togo, however, is fast making itself the new Kuwait of Africa. This it has done by building a man-made oil city, an offshore floating market on the sea called the Togo Triangle.
Rogue ships and rogue international businessmen travel thousands of nautical miles to Togo to buy crude oil stolen from Nigeria. The volume of trade in the triangle makes Togo the largest black market for crude oil, attracting buyers from as far as Australia, Hong Kong, Russia, the United Kingdom, South Africa, China, Ukraine and Thailand.
A report by the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC) cites China, North Korea, Israel and South Africa as frequently mentioned destination countries and recipients of stolen crude from Nigeria.
The tell-tale signs of a burgeoning economy in Togo were all too visible as this reporter made the rounds of hotels beginning from the capital, Lome. From Avenida Hotel to Ibis Lome Centre, Hotel Sancta Maria to Residence Hoteliere Oceane and from Hotel Napoleon Lagune to Hotel Cote Sud, Togo is bursting at the seams with foreigners, mostly Europeans, Chinese, Lebanese, Russians and Indians.
Not all of them are tourists and not all have come to buy cash crops or handicrafts, the country’s two key foreign exchange earners. Indeed, the influx of white and Asian visitors and the growing number of hotels speak volume of an economy that has ingeniously attached its umbilical cord to the vast oil wealth of nearby Nigeria.
Crude oil theft in Nigeria is one of the most notorious transnational crimes in the world today. The Petroleum Revenue Special Task Force led by Nuhu Ribadu found hydrocarbon theft as being a major and chronic source of revenue loss to Nigeria.
It warned that theft of crude oil and refined petroleum products may be reaching emergency levels in the country.
The task force noted that oil theft could be as high as 250,000 barrels per day, close to 10 per cent of daily production and amounting to as high as N1 trillion annually.
The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) reports that about 40 per cent of products channelled through pipelines are lost to theft and sabotage. The Petroleum Products Marketing Company (PPMC) recorded 4,468 product pipeline breaks in 2011 alone, and values the product stolen from its pipeline network between 2001 and 2010 at N178 billion.
Mind-boggling as they may sound to poor Nigerians, deprived from birth of every benefit of oil wealth, industry watchers insist the official figures are grossly understated.
The volume of oil theft is so huge it is bigger than the legitimate oil industry of some African countries. It attracts “vultures” from Nigeria’s military and corrupt political elite to residual rag-tag militias in the Niger Delta to Chinese and Russian Mafias.
Court Convictions, Dismissal of Naval Officers
A total 13 Russians were arrested in Nigeria over oil theft as far back as 2003. Two Rear Admirals in the Nigerian Navy, Francis Agbiti and Samuel Kolawole, were court martialled and dismissed for complicity in allowing an arrested tanker African Pride to escape from custody.
The tanker had been intercepted near Shell’s oil export terminal in Forcados and was found to have taken on board 11,000 tonnes of crude oil without authorisation.
The court martial provided official confirmation of long-held suspicion that top military officers are deeply involved in oil theft.
Military prosecutors said Agbiti had attempted to release the African Pride on the very day it was seized. Her cargo of crude oil was illegally transferred to another ship three weeks later while the vessel was in navy custody.
Court papers showed that Kolawole allowed Russian officials to visit the ship without authorisation and later ensured there was no guard on board the ship when it disappeared around August 10, 2004.
Prosecutors disclosed that Agbiti and Kolawole were responsible for the “simultaneous alteration, destruction and removal of documents” following the ship’s disappearance.
Two junior naval officers, Jonathan Ihejiawu and Suleiman Atan, told the court-martial they were paid N250,000 each by one Lt. Commander Mohammed Abubakar on October 31, 2003 to escort African Pride from Lagos harbour to the high seas where its cargo was transferred to a waiting ship and replaced with sea water.
The two junior officers said Abubakar told them the payment was from the “big boys” in the navy.
Ever since the court martial, more Russians have been arrested in Nigeria with stolen crude. Other nationals, including Britons and Chinese, have equally been arrested.
Earlier this month, a Nigerian court sentenced three Indians, Sailesh Kumar Singh, (captain of a vessel, MT Akshay), Chadrashekar Sharma and Ajay Bhatiya (vessel owner), to 15 years imprisonment for offences bordering on oil theft.
The Indians were among 12 suspected oil thieves, including eight other Indians, one Ghanaian and a Nigerian arrested aboard Akshay by the Joint Task Force, Central Naval Command, Bayelsa, in November 2012.
One court paper read: “Sailesh Kumar Singh, Chadrashekar Sharma, Dharmaraj Kumar, Ajay Kumar, Nimesh Kodi Parambil, Ashraf Ali, Sanjeev Kumar, Sarbjot Singh, Arvind Kumar Bhaedwaj, Gagan Kumar, Dele Johnson Olayemi and Benneth Egbegi, being crew members on MT Akshay with Ajay Bhatiya (now at large) on or at about November 25, 2012 in Brass, Bayelsa State, within the jurisdiction of this court did without authority deal in 157,822 litres of crude oil bunkered from Auntie the Matriach Julie Rig of Conoil Nigeria into MT Akshay and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 1(17)(a) of the Miscellaneous Offences Act CAP M17 of the revised edition (laws of the federation of Nigeria) 2007 and punishment under Section 1(17) of the same Act.”
In the conviction, however, the court was silent on the ship and her content.
The international dimension of the menace of oil theft is such that President Goodluck Jonathan recently urged the United Kingdom and other Western governments to help Nigeria curtail crude oil theft by rejecting stolen Nigerian crude taken to their refineries.
The whimpers from Jonathan have done nothing to stave off foreign syndicates and fat cat Nigerian collaborators who, with the tacit support of the Togolese authorities, have built for themselves a criminal empire which estimated fortunes is bigger than the combined gross domestic products (GDPs) of Togo, Benin Republic, Burkina Faso and Niger Republic.
Journey to Togo Triangle
Almost on a weekly basis, a mixed tribe of fortune hunters arrive Togo and are chauffeured to luxury hotels. A few, for strategic reasons, prefer to tuck away in neighbouring Ghana and Benin from where they track their illicit cargoes.
Though this reporter had arrived Lome by road, the taxi driver was still quick to ask if he was from Nigeria. Without waiting for a confirmation of his hunch, he wanted to know if the visitor had any crude cargo to sell.
The driver added that he had a brother who could help out with bank transactions. He had another brother who could help arrange boat charter to the Togo Triangle. Charter fee was $3,000. The solicitation did not end with the taxi man. One of the hotel porters and a barman offered to provide contacts in the oil business.
Dozens of small service companies have sprung up in Lome, all providing sundry necessities to foreigners doing illegal trade in the Togo Triangle. The sheer number of boat charter services transporting oil traders to the triangle gives a good first impression of an illicit international market that may have become the pride of a tiny country whose best known export yet is footballer, Emmanuel Adebayoor.
For $200, this reporter got a seat in a supply boat carrying provisions and local tradesmen going to the Togo Triangle. The triangle attracts sundry suppliers of goods, including food, alcohol, cigarettes, textiles and DVDs. Pimps and prostitutes are not left out.
Tradesmen shuttle among vessels just as other kinds of businessmen barter their wares for cheap fuel supplied by crews. Ships use diesel to run their engines and power generators on board. Crew members, running low on cash, barter diesel for critical provisions.
Aside white foreigners, West African nationals of Ghana, Benin, Liberia and Nigeria mill around. Naval gunboats occasionally plough the waters, providing a semblance of security in an obviously lawless territory.
Posing as a middleman from Nigeria scouting for buyers, this reporter met a Togolese by the name Narcisse Novinyo who said he was a trade facilitator. A retired produce inspector, he knew almost everything about Nigeria, its people and its president, even though he had never been to the country.
What has changed his life for good was not his paltry pension, rather the Nigerian crude sold in Togo. Novinyo was careful never to use the words ‘stolen crude’ as he narrated his experience working with Nigerians.
For the next three days he stuck to this reporter like an infectious disease. He produced documents as proofs of previous transactions he had facilitated. Stolen as the crude oil may be, transactions are surprisingly covered by carefully-worded documents.
When contacted, NNPC General Manager (Public Affairs), Ohi Alegbe, pleaded with TheNiche to give him time to find out the true situation.
A few minutes later, another employee of the corporation, who identified himself simply as Frank, said: “We are not aware that such an illegal place exists.”
He also asked for time to get back to TheNiche but failed to do so at press time.
- Emmanuel Mayah first published the story on TheNiche
N30 billion ‘MMM’ scam hits GTB, Zenith, Stanbic IBTC and Diamond banks
A Ponzi scheme operator who in just five months managed to convince about 15,000 Nigerians to part with over N30 billion has absconded with the deposits lodged mostly in five different accounts with the Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB). One of the investors in the phoney scheme, Emadu Efe Eva, transferred one billion naira from his/her Diamond Bank account to one of the GTB accounts owned by the Ponzi promoters, Micheno Cooperative, GTB 0346460004. The billion naira transaction was carried out in Lagos on 19th July 2018. The same Emadu Efe Eva made a total of seven investment transactions between 22nd June 2018 and 27th July 2018.
Other commercial banks that housed the Ponzi deposits included Zenith Bank (corporate account no-1015774733), Diamond Bank (account number 0103771684) and Stanbic IBTC Bank (account number 0026336328). The promoter, careful not to be seen as another ‘MMM’ disguised its operations as a Cooperative Society by name ‘MMCS’, Micheno Multi-Purpose Cooperative Society. It operated five bank accounts with Guaranty Trust Bank- 0262809804, 0346460004, 0346460028, 0346460011 and 0346460035.
Coming barely 15 months after the MMM ponzi scheme hit Nigeria like a tidal wave, devastating homes and marriages as it swept away billions of naira in family finances, personal savings and other funds meant for school fees or collected as loans, the newest ‘MMM’ presented itself to the ever gullible populace as Micheno Multi-Purpose Cooperative. Preliminary investigations reveal that Micheno is actually a portmanteau for Michael and Eno, possibly a husband and wife affair.
The Cooperative said its mission was “to create a system that empowers its members through provision of quality, diversified, innovative and market-driven financial and technical services and exceeding members’ expectation”.
Bank documents supplied by Zenith Bank reveal that Micheno’s account with the bank has only two signatories, namely Mr Michael Uno Eke and Ms. Eno Queen Essien. Michael and Eno lent their first names to the Cooperative called Micheno. A joint petition written on behalf of “over 15,000 direct subscribers” states that sometimes in March 2018, the promoters of Micheno Multi-Purpose Cooperative Society obtained registration certificate for the Cooperative from the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Registrar of Cooperative Societies. In June 2018, the promoters of the Cooperative put out advertisements inviting “unsuspecting members of the public to register and join the Cooperative. The names of the promoters and founding members of the Cooperatives were given as Michael Eke (President), Mbakara Aya (Vice President), Miss Eno Queen Essien, Miss Wendy Daniels, Efah Egba and Mrs. Rejunor Aya. Others are Mrs. Egan Adat Ben-Koko, Mrs. Ruth Bolu-Atte, Ekimini Archibong, Emem Harry and Barrister Tutu Ekeng.
Investigations revealed that the advert promotions targeting unwitting subscribers were done mainly through the “opening ceremony” held on 16th June 2018 at the Calabar International Conference Centre, billboards mounted in Abuja and Calabar, handbills, comedy/music shows and through referrals from trusted friends and family members. Other subscribers heard about Micheno from colleagues at work.
The official brochure of the MMCS scheme states its aim is to “coordinate entrepreneurs to poll private funds as a source of investment opportunities and credit for members.” The brochure went on to say the Cooperative was to engage in eight fields of investment namely: “collection of savings, real estate, haulage and logistics, agriculture, entertainment and events, oil and gas, multi-level marketing and general marketing of goods & services”.
The over 15,000 subscribers paid N10,000 each to pick what was called membership form. The subscribers were further invited to invest larger funds into the cooperative which will be invested in oil & gas, aviation, real estate and other high-end sectors to attract profit returns of 50-80% in 40 days.
Some of the highest subscribers to the scheme included Essien Raymond Ukpong who also unbelievably transferred a total sum of N360 million from his GTB account to another GTB account owned by Micheno Multipurpose Cooperative Society Ltd. Ndifon Ndim-Ejor of Cross River invested N63 million in the scheme.
Ayuk Kakore Egbe of Abuja on 3rd August paid N36 million into another of Micheno’s bank account with GTB by name Micheno Cooperative Scheme Ltd while Wendy Daniel of Cross River deposited N70 million on 30th July 2018. Wendy made 15 additional payments into MMCS accounts between 26th June and 31st July, bringing her total investments in the scheme to N570 million.
Another is Onyi Chijoke of Calabar who on 4th August invested N4 million. Isah Benjamim of Kaduna on 27th July paid in N19.9 million; Ugochukwu Geraard Okongwu of Calabar paid in N6million on 4th June; Morphy Farms of Cross River paid in N15million on 25th June while Ukpe Emem Nathaniel of Akwa Ibom paid in N11 million on 30th July.
Other subscribers who deposited huge sums into Micheno Cooperative’s bank accounts included
Mr. Abubakar Wakili of Abuja who on 26th June 2018 paid the sum of N8 million into Micheno Cooperative’s GTB account from his own bank, First Bank. Udoh Paul Sunday of Lagos paid in N13 million in three transactions carried out on the 18th, 19th and 20th July 2018, all GTB to GTB transactions.
Odeyeuma Francis of Abuja paid in N9 million on 1st August; Ekpenyong Joseph Okon of Lagos deposited N5 million on 14thJuly; Sunday Chinagorom paid in N10.2 million;
Rubymarsh Energy of Calabar invested N10.2 million; Victor Essien of Uyo paid in N10 million on 9th July; Otobong Udofia of Uyo invested N7 million on 13th July; Mba Nnenna Esther of Calabar paid in N13 million on 11th July. Oqua Etim Asuquo of Calabar paid in N22.6 million. The payment was in two tranches recorded on 13th and 19th July 2018 while Dorathy Ada Pamou of Calabar deposited from her First Bank account, a total of N26.5 million in seven transactions between 29th June and 26th November 2018. The list is endless.
Subscribers to the MMCS scheme, led by Adindu M. Ohawwe and Daniel Ojima, said the 40 days given for their investments to mature came and gone but they received no payments. No verifiable explanation was given. In the attempt to trace the Cooperative’s funds, five different registered companies bearing the name Micheno were discovered. Checks at the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), show that they were all registered by Michael Uko Eke as his business enterprises. The companies are Micheno Ventures, Micheno Global Investment Limited, Micheno & More Business Limited, Micheno Oil & Gas Limited and Micheno Group of Companies Limited. While Micheno Ventures with address as 6 Noble Apartment, Parliamentary Road, Calabar, was registered 3rd November 2017, the other four companies were registered the same day, 30th April 2018. The four companies have the same address: 38 Parliamentary Road, Calabar.
It was also discovered in practical terms that all the Cooperative’s accounts were operated by a sole signatory, Uno Michael Eke, with BVN 22178917780. The same Michael Uno Eke has several personal bank accounts which investors to his scheme claimed were used to warehouse funds diverted from the Cooperative’s accounts. He has two accounts with Keystone Bank; one a domiciliary account, the other, a joint savings account with Essien Enobong.
Subscribers to the MMCS scheme decry what they call regulatory lapses of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and poor risk assessments by commercial banks which in this case turn them into “vehicle of fraud to the detriment of unsuspecting members of the public”. In a petition sent to the National Assembly, the investors want the affected commercial banks to tell them “where the funds of the Cooperative were diverted to”.
They also would want to know why no red flag was ever raised on Micheno Cooperative bank accounts. “If the influx of funds did not attract the attention of the apex bank, at least the volumes of monies (over N25 billion) moved out of the Cooperative’s accounts within 2 months should have attracted the attention of the regulator”, they pondered.
In efforts to speak with someone from MMCS, SATELLITE TIMES dialed some telephone numbers found on Micheno’s promotional materials. One of the calls connected. When the receiver was asked if he was Micheal Eke, a male voice hastily replied, “God forbid”. The receiver who was identified through the Truecaller app as MC Mbakara declined to comment on his relationship with Micheno. He excused himself from the phone conversation saying he was busy in the studio doing some recordings.
Another call was to Esther Isek, one of the female models whose photographs and telephone numbers had featured prominently on brochures, handbills and Micheno’s other promotional items. She confirmed being a registered member of the cooperative. Esther said she put her money into the scheme with hopes of making high returns but soon after, it was one story to the other until her investment and those of many others were siphoned. Asked if she knew the whereabouts of Michael Eke, she replied, “The last we heard was that he is in custody.”
When this newspaper contacted Michael on his mobile, it did not appear he was in police net. After his phone rang out for a second time, he switched it off.
(to be continued).
EXCLUSIVE: 10 mystery containers shipped into Nigeria by CMA CGM Delmas
– Police suspect arms and ammunition.
– cargoes cleared without physical examination.
– Warrant of Arrest on CMA CMG Shipping Manager.
The true contents of 10 containers shipped into Nigeria under mysterious circumstances are now subjects of diverse speculations among port workers in Lagos just as a powerful syndicate believed to be behind the shipment has been deploying its influence within the Nigerian Police Force, the Nigeria Customs Service, Ports Terminal Operators and elsewhere to hush the matter. The contents of these containers remain uncertain especially as they were cleared from the port without any physical examinations, using apparently falsified shipping documents to pass through the clearing process.
Documents obtained by SATELLITE TIMES show that the ten containers were shipped into the country by a shipping company called CMA CMG Delmas Nigeria Shipping Ltd with office at 26 Creek Road, Apapa, Lagos. The consignments arrived TinCan Island Port Lagos from Jakarta, Indonesia on board a vessel named Maersk Conakry/CMA-CGM with voyage number 8W100E. The consignee was given as J.I. Ejison International Ltd with address as 109 Upper New Market Road, Onitsha, Anambra State.
Findings by this newspaper show that the 10 containers (5 x 20-Foot containers with Sea Way Bill No. ID20271634 and another 5 x 20-Foot containers with Sea Way Bill No. ID20271677) were manifested as cartons of soap with J.I. Ejison International Ltd as the consignee. At the time of the import, soap was a prominent item on the Import Prohibition List of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Particulars of the 10 mystery containers
The10 mystery containers have the following as their container numbers and seal numbers:
CAXU3378488 D6701293 12500KG
IPXU3358657 D6701484 12500KG
TRLU3957001 D6701386 12500KG
ECMU1295120 D6701340 12500KG
GESU1373150 D6701381 12500KG
CNCU1529716 D6688637 12500KG
ECMU1542317 D6688581 12500KG
XINU1528288 D6688590 12500KG
FC1U3450531 D6688503 12500KG
On arrival of the 10 containers at the port of destination in Nigeria, the original Manifest and Bills of Lading showing the cargoes as prohibited goods were tampered with and new ones generated in their place. Following these, key shipping documents were altered just as the name of the consignee was changed from J.I. Ejison International Ltd to Fadobra Ventures Ltd with address as 44 Abiola Oluwa Street, Lagos. The description of goods was changed from “cartons of soap” to “Manicure and Pedicure sets”.
Ports insiders told SATELLITE TIMES that these changes, described as “grave” and accommodated by CMA CMG were not consistent with best practices, particularly the Port Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) given that the e-Form M and e-Manifest had already been lodged and once so done cannot be reversed.
Explaining the malpractices, the port insider said: “It is like Ekene Dilichukwu Motors receiving 10 cartons of milk from Company A to be transported from Lagos to Port Harcourt. But after the goods had arrived destination, the waybill is changed to read 10 cartons of nails while the name of the owner is changed from Company Ato Company Z”.
SATELLITE TIMES was able to obtain a copy of the Form M, one of the most important documents used in shipping transactions. The Form M No. 20140069224 used in this controversial transaction was altered in favour of Fadobra Ventures Ltd instead of J.I Ejison International Limited – the original beneficiary.
Not a few maritime operators told this newspaper that the Form M could only have been forged given that at the inception of any importation, the importer/consignee, in this case J.I Ejison International Limited, must first apply for and obtain Form M only after meeting specified requirements including providing the company’s tax record as contained in its unique Tax Identification Number (TIN). Form M are issued by banks to an import company only after the said company had presented itself to mandatory scrutiny, including stringent Forex guidelines and money laundering prevention measures. As a result, a Form M obtained by one company cannot be transferred to another company just as a Form M obtained by a company for the importation of a specified item cannot be utilised even by the same company to import a different type of item.
SATELLITE TIMES investigations revealed that virtually every document associated with the 10 mystery containers is riddled with discrepancies. The shipping company CMA CMG claims that in swapping both the consignees and the contents of the containers, it acted on instruction from the shipper (Messers. Sea Air & Land Forwarding Ltd)leading to an amendment dated 27th April 2015. Curiously, other documents show that the amendments to the consignee’s name and contents were carried out by CMA CMG on 18th March 2015. This was 40 days before the purported instructions from the shipper.
Yet another glaring anomaly in the documentation is that while the amended bill of lading describes the 10 containers as containing manicure and pedicure sets, the cargo was eventually released by the shipping company CMA CMG, as the prohibited item, soap. This is clearly captured in CMA CMG’s delivery order issued on 8th May 2015, a copy of which was obtained by this newspaper. This development led dock workers tracking the mystery cargoes to second-guessing the true contents of the 10 containers which they said might neither be soap nor manicure and pedicure sets as alleged.
Botched physical examination
Prince Jide Olowu, a Customs agent familiar with the Nigeria’s current Clearing & Forwarding regime, told SATELLITE TIMES that irrespective of the claims by any importer, the only way to ascertain the true contents of a container is by subjecting it to physical examination.
“I must say that because of corruption, the Customs is very selective when it comes to physical examination, but at least, that was how recent imports containing Tramadol were detected”, Olowu said.
Though the shipping company, CMA CMG’s claims the 10 mystery containers were subjected to 100% physical examination by Customs officials before they were released to the importers, documents available to SATELLITE TIMES show that no physical examinations was carried out.
The 10 containers were supposedly transferred on Saturday 9th May 2015 to Don Climax Bonded Terminal for 100% examination by the Customs and other statutory agencies of government. Shipping documents however show that the 10 containers were released by Customs, CMA CGM Nigeria Shipping Ltd and security agencies earlier days earlier – on/or before 8th May 2015.
Prince Olowu assured it is never a normal practice for cargoes to be released to the consignee (the last stage in the clearing process) before the same cargois transferred to a Bonded Terminal (in this case Don Climax) for 100% physical examination.
Additional evidence showing the 10 containers were never subjected to physical examination before they were released to Fondora Ventures Ltd can be found in documents from the official records of Tin Can Island Container Terminal (TICT). Whilst CMA CGM claim the 10 containers were transferred on 9th May 2015 to Don Climax Bonded Terminal for 100% examination by Customs and other statutory agencies of government, the containers were still in the custody of TICT as evidenced by receipts of rent payment on the 10 containers to TICT. Receipts show the 10 containers were still attracting rent at TICT even on 9th May 2015 when they were supposedly already transferred to Don Climax Bonded Terminal.
As tongues began wagging over the 10 mystery containers, the attention of the Zone 2 Monitoring Unit of the Nigeria Police was soon attracted. Statements made by TICT Terminal Manager and other workers to Police investigators at Force Headquarters Alagbon on March 2018 show that the 10 containers were still at TICT at the time they were said to have been transferred to Don Climax Bonded Terminal for 100% physical examination. The Terminal Manager and other TICT staff members had been invited by the Police to say what they knew in connection to the 10 containers.
Warrant of Arrest on CMA CMG Shipping Manager
On 20th April 2017, a Warrant of Arrest was issued by the Igbosere Magistrate Court in respect of CMA CMG Shipping Manager, Mr. Anthony Ukawoko. A copy of the warrant obtained by SATELLITE TIMES shows that police investigators had stated that CMA CMG “conspired to import prohibited goods suspected to be arms and ammunition by Fondora Ventures Ltd, J.I Ejison Int. Ltd, F.N Njoku, Donatus Obele and Don Climax Bonded Terminal and Ventures”.
The Police came to that hypothesis following the serial contradictions in the documentation process for the 10 containers as well as the apparent determination to conceal the true contents of the containers, changing them from soap to manicure and pedicure sets and back to soap which by the evasion of physical examination remains a mystery.
None of the telephone messages sent to the Customs Public Relations Officer, Mr. Joe Attah, were reverted to just as CMA CMG staffers refused to grant entry to SATELLITE TIMES’s reporter who had gone to the Lagos office of the shipping company to obtain official reaction for the story.
Resorting to the services of a courier company, GIG Logistics, SATELLITE TIMES on 28th September 2018 in Abuja sent a two-page media enquiry to the Managing Director of CMA CMG. About three weeks later, the company sent back the same media enquiry to this newspaper without commenting on any of the issues raised.
In November 2018, the same reporter returned to CMA’s office and after two days of attempts, the media enquiry was received and acknowledged by a staffer who claimed the shipping company had no Public Relation Officer.
Exclusive: 44 companies import 500 containers using cloned Form M
-over N9 billion diverted in tariff fraud
In what is probably the most brazen display of impunity by powerful syndicates at the Lagos seaport, a total of 44 companies are discovered to have imported about 500 containers into the country using same Form M. Of the 44 companies (see list below) 30 brought in various consignments using Form M with number MF20170010026/ BA No. 21420170005250 which was cloned and recycled 29 times over a period of two years between 2017 and 2018 in a massive and sophisticated serial tariff fraud.
Five of the 44 companies namely Max Holding & Sons Ltd, Auto Creation E-Hub Ltd, Joneble Holding & Sons Ltd, Bossman Holding Ltd and Vintage Nigeria Ltd used another cloned Form M with number MF20170019026/ BA No. 21420170005260 for their shipping transactions while the Form M used by three companies, Garba Murtala Tafida, Ogwuni Rolland Edwin and Pedrona Ltd are so tampered with vital information scrubbed out that this newspaper is unable to read them.
Two companies with business names The Seacorp Nig. Ltd and Flex Nig. Ltd utilised for their transactions one Form M MF2017013894/BA No. 21450034.
The last four companies each quoted Form M numbers in their documents thus: Sonai Shipping Ltd MF20180052740; Cosmos &Sons Ltd MF20170010111; Duncan Maritime Ventures Nig. Ltd MF20170094928 and Emoko Real Properties Nig. Ltd MF20130010026. Curiously, all the four Form Ms have no batch numbers thus making it impossible to determine the name of the bank that issued the Form Ms in the first place and also making it difficult to track the source of funds used by the business owners in the transactions.
Two months ago, in September, SATELLITE TIMES blew the lid on a powerful “Port Cabal” that specialised in using clone Form M documents to perpetrate large scale fraud at the Lagos seaports. The report exposed how the Cabal imported millions of dollars’ worth of luxury vehicles, many of them armoured, into the country using just one Form M. The offensive Form M with number: MF 20170010026 was used in importing a total of 554 luxury vehicles that included one Rolls Royce, 84 Toyota Landcruiser, 41 Toyota Fortuner, 123 Toyota Prado, 46 Lexus 570/460, 140 Toyota Hilux, 32 Toyota Camry, 21 Toyota Coaster, 43 Toyota Hiace, 21 Mitsbushi Pajero and 2 Range Rover, most of them armoured and targeted at high-end market.
While the September report about 17 companies colluding to use one Form M had left ordinary Nigerians and anti-corruption crusaders in utter disbelief, the story pales into insignificance with the latest discovery of 44 companies pulling off an even bigger fraud without the Colonel Hameed Ali-led leadership of the Nigerian Customs Service being any wiser. Intriguingly, it was the same Form M MF 20170010026 used by the 17 companies to bring in 554 exotic cars that was also utilized by a new group of 27 companies to import more cargoes, bringing the number to 44 consignees.
Form M explained
Form M is the most important item in the documentation process put in place by the Federal Government of Nigeria through the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), to monitor goods imported into the country as well as to enable collection of import duties where applicable.
Any person intending to import physical goods into Nigeria must initiate the importation by processing a Form M through an authorised dealer (licensed bank). Alongside the Form M, a host of other documentation will be presented to the bank. Where approved, the Form M serves as authority to the bank to open letters of credit for foreign exchange transactions on behalf of the importer.
This form has a unique number which must be quoted/written on all the shipping documents; although there are exemptions such as Diplomatic cargos (of reasonable quantity), personal effects, goods shipped in by government agencies or goods shipped into Free Trade Zones in Nigeria such as the Calabar Free Trade Zone (CFTZ).
Form M is the first official document needed to initiate shipment to Nigeria. The life span of a Form M is 6 months (for general merchandise) and one year (for plant and machinery), after which an extension of 6 months (for general merchandise) and one year (for plant and machinery).
A Form M is usually issued for a particular supply contract (between the oversea manufacturer and the Nigerian importer) and allows for part shipments within the validity period. For large project such as stadium construction, a Bulk Form M can be issued, which allows continuous part shipments throughout the validity of the Form M.
Form M is a form of licence. Approval of a Form M depends, among other things, on the forex okayed for the importer by the CBN for a particular import. To obtain Form M, the importer must present his Tax Identification Number (TIN). In fact, the TIN is now key-username to log into the electronic platform to process this all-important document. Form M is not transferable from one importer to another. And a Form M approved for the import of a particular item cannot be used even by the same importer to bring in a different item.
An industry stakeholder (names withheld) gave “a rough estimate” of the values of the 500 containers imported by the 44 companies as “over N100 billion”. It will take the expertise of forensic financial investigators to arrive at the true value of the imports. However, SATELLITE TIMES was told that “because all the imports were luxury goods, they attract 20% duty of the true value, 50% levy and 5% VAT. Indeed, the cloning and manipulations of Form M and allied shipping documents are aimed at escaping payment of accurate levies and tariffs. The industry stakeholder added that the Federal government must have “lost nothing less than N9 billion to this batch alone of cloned Form M imports”.
Official reactions were sought by this newspaper at the headquarters of the Nigerian Customs Service in Abuja. Clearly-worded text messages sent to the mobile number of the Service PRO, Mr. Joe Attah, was not responded to at press time.
List of the 44 companies
1. Five Stax Group Ltd
2. Emy Cargo & Shipping Services
3. Volta MP Equipment Nig. Ltd
4. Vintage Nig. Ltd.
5. Suplus Nig. Ltd
6. Brasslet Nig. Ltd.
7. Sonnex Nig. Ltd.
8. Zako Bag Allied Nig. Ltd.
9. Kaslak Nig. Ltd.
10.Zeb Holding Ltd.
11.Cosmos & Sons Nig. Ltd.
12. Joneble Holding & Sons Nig. Ltd.
13. Amaju & Sons Nig. Ltd.
14. Zinktex Nig. Ltd.
15. Dabik Holding & Sons Nig. Ltd.
!6. Landhoast Ltd.
17. Ogwuni Rolland Edwin
18. Ruffo Nig. Ltd.
19. Marko Nig. Ltd.
20. Sengenmenge Nig. Ltd.
21. Offor and Sons Nig. Ltd.
22. Lext Vin Nig. Ltd.
23. Modul Oil and Gas Ltd
24. Ducan Maritime Ventures Nig. Ltd.
25. Carmen Ltd.
26. Garba Murtala Tafida
27. Auto Creation E-Hub Ltd.
28. Emoko Real Properties Nig. Ltd.
29. Osland Ltd.
30. Brimax Still Nig. Ltd.
31. Akuabia Prince Afamefuna
32. Max Holding & Sons Ltd,
33.Auto Creation E-Hub Ltd,
34.Joneble Holding & Sons Ltd,
35.Bossman Holding Ltd
36. Vintage Nigeria Ltd
37. Garba Murtala Tafida,
38. Ogwuni Rolland Edwin and
39. Pedrona Ltd
40. The Seacorp Nig. Ltd
41. Flex Nig. Ltd
42. Sonai Shipping Ltd
43. Cosmos &Sons Ltd
44. Duncan Maritime Ventures Nig. Ltd
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