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We steal billions from European banks: this is how (1)

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The streets of Amsterdam

The Netherlands is musing on proposals for a special police unit to tackle Nigerian criminal gangs. Investigative reporter EMMANUEL MAYAH travels there and meets a cell leader and other Nigerian career criminals waging an aggressive economic war against Europe.

Some call it economic terrorism. But one crook, beating his chest, calls it a pay back for historical wrongs.

A few streets off bustling Amsterdam Central is a posh bar curiously named Lost in Amsterdam. The neon sign does not say much. But it takes just a few minutes for the ambivalence of this leisure spot, which targets tourists and resident rich Africans, to sink in.

It is the night out for a gregarious group of Nigerians, almost all of whom walk with impunity in their footsteps. Normally, their boisterous nature would annoy an average Dutch audience, but soon it begins to get clear why this bunch of West Africans is always tolerated here.

In a little over two hours the group of six men, including this undercover reporter, burns cash in excess of 4,000 euros. The last bottle of wine is not even finished when the others move to another part of the city to continue the spending spree.

In pursuit of the good life, they chase after women, habitually writing telephone numbers on euro bills before handing them to the women of their desire.

One of the men jokes that it makes no sense carrying a business card. “Cash is my business … besides, using euros as my memo pads is the best first impression.”

Not only have these Nigerians, members of an underworld, conquered different women, they have also conquered different parts of Europe.

They have sojourned in France, Italy, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Greece, Luxembourg, Germany, Denmark, Spain and Sweden – swindling banks, raking in millions of euros, in an offensive described as economic terrorism.

Two of them had been in prison elsewhere before settling in the Netherlands…

Four years ago, while working undercover on a human trafficking and illegal migration story, this reporter had been referred by his “travel agent” to a cybercafe opposite the public library in Isolo, Lagos where prospective emigrees were, for a fee, taught skills in computer crime, basically to prepare them for a life in Europe.

At this shadowy academy, this reporter met 26-year-old Femi (not his real name). Called Femishow by his friends, he was one of the Nigerians drinking alcoholic milkshakes at the pricey “Lost in Amsterdam” in the Nieuwendijk area of the city.

Happy to hook up with a former ‘classmate’, Femishow gave a narrative of his journey to Europe.

When he arrived Schipol Airport in 2010, he was arrested for possessing no travel documents.

Femishow had acquired a Guinean passport in Lagos. With the fake passport, he travelled to Ghana where someone helped him to procure a visa for N700,000. Aboard the flight to Amsterdam, he made his way to the toilet and destroyed his documents.

He arrived the Netherlands without a nationality. Although the Dutch police knew he was a Nigerian, they could not prove it.

Femishow was imprisoned for four months. Upon his release, he was asked the standard question: “Do you wish to return to your country?” He was ready with his answer: No.

He was taken to a detention centre in Schipol for a month. From there he visited the asylum application centre also in Schipol. After several interviews, he was taken to an asylum camp in Dronten. Five months later, his asylum request was turned down, his stay in Holland officially terminated.

Rejected asylum seekers are left stranded on the cold streets. Without legal documents, they can neither get jobs nor easily move on to another country. Not Femishow. He had his friends waiting for him.

While at the camp, he was given free language coaching. With his smattering Dutch, he was prepared for the life ahead. Most of the Nigerian illegals take to crime, often drug peddling, to survive.

In May 2009, while trying to escape the Dutch police, one Azubuike jumped from the 9th floor of his apartment building in Bijlmer, southeast Amsterdam. His death sparked a protest against police high-handedness by the black community in Amsterdam.

Black Amsterdam

In Amsterdam, this reporter’s white friends warned him not to go to Bijlmer, a predominantly black neighbourhood. This place is the Hillbrow of Johannesburg or the Mushin of Lagos. This is where Femishow lives.

Bijlmermeer, ‘Bijlmer’ for short, or ‘the Bimmer’ for those in the know, is synonymous with crime, drugs, unemployment and illegal immigrants. It is home to 100,000 people of 150 different nationalities, mostly from Africa, and the former Dutch colonies of Suriname and Antilles.

Walking around, you see different faces of Nigerians, Surinamese and Somalis. You encounter a street market retailing garri, egusi, plantain, coconut, pepper and other foods from immigrants’ homelands. Reggae, salsa and Nigerian music rule the air.

There is no doubt who runs Bijlmer: Nigerians. They are loud wherever two or three of them gather. Other nationalities defer to Nigerians, who lounge around with beautiful Surinamese girls by their side and act as though they invented the automated teller machine (ATM).

Young men work as ‘look-outs’ and foot soldiers as money quickly changes hands on street corners. Bijlmer has an underbelly, and it shows. A police chief once described this notorious district ruled by Nigerians as a “national disaster area.”

In search of solution to the menace, a call was recently made for the establishment of a special police unit to handle Nigerian-related crimes.

Three parties in the Dutch parliament, the Christian Democrats, the conservative VVD and the populist Freedom Party, jointly proposed to the justice minister to create a permanent police unit to tackle Nigerian criminal gangs.

Outside Nigeria, the Netherlands is said to host the largest community of Nigerian fraudsters, especially internet scammers. Back in Nigeria, at the various backstreet fraud classes, where most youngsters learn the rope, the Netherlands is the destination choice for greenhorn crooks preparing to migrate to Europe.

Figures published in 2006 by Ultrascan, a Dutch private detective company, said there were over 800 suspected Nigerian fraudsters described as “hardcore scammers” working from the Netherlands.

The UK was second with 724 scammers, followed by Spain with over 500.

Aside hardcore scammers, “at least 1,400 Nigerians in Holland alone were involved with this type of scam,” Ultrascan added, to underscore the fact that the Netherlands was the hotbed for Nigerian con artists.

In 2006, Dutch authorities arrested 12 Nigerians, confisticating computers, fake travel documents and 25,000 euros in cash.

In a separate arrest, a quartet of Nigerian scammers in the Netherlands who had bilked mostly American citizens of more than $1.2 million (according to the United States Justice Department) were arrested and extradited to the U.S.

In March 2010, another Nigerian, Ugochukwu Enwerem, who collected over $9.5 million from victims, was convicted by a federal jury in North Carolina. He tricked them to wire money to him and his designees in the Netherlands.

Sophos, an anti-fraud coalition, said: “Over the last couple of years, we have seen more 419 solicitations with Dutch phone numbers than those of any other nation, including Nigeria, though the Dutch-based fraudsters are of course Nigerians operating primarily from Amsterdam.”

The term 419, a Nigerian penal code, also called advance fee fraud, is a Nigerian criminal patent and virus spread by virulent migrants across the world.

In terms of organisational structures, criminal enterprise and collateral damages, the Nigerian 419 groups are now comparable to Colombia drug barons and the Russian mafia.

Years back, a few Nigerian scammers brought down a Brazilian bank, Banco Noroeste, after one of its directors, Nelson Sakaguchi, wired a total of $243 million to the Nigerians. The scam, recorded as the third biggest in banking history, led to at least two murders.

 A night out with the gang

Throughout the evening this undercover reporter was with the Nigerian fraudsters in Amsterdam, conversations and telephone discussions were carried out in lingo. They discussed activities of rival criminal cells in Amsterdam, Hilversum, De Hague, Rotterdam and across the border in Brussels.

They debated latest information from their intelligence network and plotted revenge on turncoats found snitching.

As the night wore on, and alcohol began to inflate egos, conversations became boastful and inevitably centred on associates who recently made a killing. One of the “hit men” is a Nigerian called Olu who came to Holland a refugee.

Known by multiple aliases in the cybercrime world, he returned to Nigeria a few years ago and built an eye-catching hotel in the Papa Ajao area of Mushin, Lagos.

Olu owns a country home equipped with a swimming pool and a tennis court in his native Ekiti State.

Early this year, he acquired and re-modelled a massive event centre in Lagos, equipped with 40 units of air conditioners. He added a mini-Disney playground for children. He also owns a clinic and moves about town in a convoy of exotic cars.

It is well known that a good number of Nigerian fraudsters rose from humble refugee status to become instant millionaires in the Netherlands.

Olu is estimated to worth over N2 billion, yet he is not considered one of the richest.

Nigerian fraudsters invented or modified popular fraud ploys like the Advance Fee Fraud, Red Mercury Scam, credit card fraud, lottery scam, solid mineral scam, the rich widow scam and God-knows-what-else.

But some of them made fortunes by attacking financial institutions in the Netherlands.

One of the most talked-about cases in Nigerian underworld discourse involved the Dutch bank, ABN AMRO. A Nigerian involved in the serial heist that climaxed in 2005 disclosed that his own cell defrauded the bank of 5.2 million euros before the game was up.

A Dutch investigative journalist, Anneke Verbraeken, believed that ABN AMRO lost much more than what was made public. She said crimes of such nature are hardly talked about because often times victims choose to remain silent and banks would not cry out either, not to shatter depositors’ confidence.

Investigations conducted in the Netherlands and neighbouring Belgium revealed that the Nigerians took time to weave an intricate web. Recruitment of members of the fraud gang began early at the asylum reception centre in Ter Apel.

At least that was where one of the Nigerians made the acquaintance of a Surinamese who would be offered employment years later by ABN AMRO.

While the technical details remain obscure, the Nigerians basically used the Surinamese insider knowledge and complicity to open dozens of bank accounts using fictitious names and forged documents.

Usually, they met outside the bank. The Surinamese supplied the information on new banking schemes the gang could take advantage of. The Nigerians rarely visited the bank premises. Documents for setting up new accounts, including passports, were supplied to the Surinamese at their meeting place.

Ordinarily, when a client presents a document like a passport to a bank, the bank verifies it, makes copies and returns the original to the client.

Because all the documents the Nigerians supplied, including job guarantees with fat salary contracts, were forged, they supplied only photocopies to the Surinamese who took them to his office and passed them on as papers he had treated.

When his supervisors demanded that certain information be cross-checked with certain employers, to verify if a prospective account owner actually worked with an organisation or earned the salary stated in his contract, the Surinamese reported back that he had done so.

Once an account was opened, the fraudsters applied for loans which they did not intend to repay. Then they just sat back and watched the loans roll in from dozens of accounts.

To obtain fatter loans, the same process was employed to open business accounts with the crooks claiming to be business owners taking out loans to finance the next profitable venture.

No one can really say how long the Nigerian-Surinamese scheme had been running before the crooks were found out.

Reluctantly but quietly the bank went to court. But it was difficult deciding how best to handle a bunch of Nigerians with doubtful identities who, for all intents and purposes, were ghost customers.

The majority of “bank passes” used in opening the accounts were traced to refugees denied asylum in the Netherlands who swapped them with the Nigerian syndicate for a token.

The prosecution applied the screw on the Surinamese hoping to get to the Nigerians through him. Four Nigerians were initially taken in but the prosecution had a tough time in the face of weak evidence.

Lawyers to the Surinamese argued that, like the bank, he was a victim of the hypnotic powers of diabolical Nigerians. He has been fired by his employers, but the judgment against him is currently on appeal.

Refugees enjoy many rights in the asylum camp. Bank accounts are opened for them through which they receive monthly stipends for their welfare from the Dutch government. For the many who are eventually refused stay, the Nigerian frausters solicit and buy their bank documents to clone hundreds of identities.

Femishow disclosed that the Dutch do not trust Nigerians but trust Surinamese, their former colonial servants; therefore, Nigerians find a dozen ways to co-opt and compromise Surinamese, often by first winning the love and confidence of their women.

Playing Robin Hood

Asked what he did with his share of the AMRO BANK bounty, one of the Nigerians involved in the cyber heist boasted that he returned home to a hero’s welcome. He built a big house, bought stocks and invested in sand-dredging equipment.

He bankrolled the production of a Nollywood movie and even flew some of the cast to Amsterdam to shoot scenes. Through that, he made the acquaintance of his dream girl, a popular Nollywood actress.

Meanwhile, one of his unforgettable moments was the day he played Robin Hood. The incident happened at the Rotterdam train station.

A woman in obvious distress bumped into him. She mumbled her apologies with tearful eyes. The kind crook was so concerned he went after her, wanting to be assured she would be okay.

Touched by his show of concern, the woman spilled it all, including the family and financial problems weighing down on her.

The Nigerian reached inside his jacket and pulled out 3,500 euros, handed it to the stranger and left in the opposite direction. Now, it was her turn to run after him, demanding for his phone number.

Aside ABN AMRO, other banks known to have lost money to Nigerian syndicates include P&T Luxembourg, Piraeus Bank Greece, HSBC, Societe Generale, Bank of Cyprus and Laiki Bank (Cyprus).

The syndicates somehow managed to circumvent banking regulations to plunder savings, pensions, credit cards, loans and insurance.

Road trip to Belgium

Posing as a fledgling fraudster who needed help to pull off a big scam, Femishow had accompanied this reporter on a road trip to Antwep and Brussels to meet a Nigerian godfather who controlled one criminal cell each on both sides of the border with the Netherlands.

The Nigerian, by the name Olu (not his real name), networks with both West African and European underworld gangs. His tentacles reach Italy, Spain; and unlikely places such as Luxembourg.

Olu has expertise in everything, from shipping items to registering an offshore company, money transfer, to money laundering. He boasted that he had people in the right places to transfer money to anywhere on the face of the earth.

He started his money laundering business in the early 1990s, beginning with links with elements in the Nigerian army. This was when Major General, who is now dead, headed the Nigerian Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA).

Proceeds of crime, including drugs and advance fee fraud, were used to buy trucks, pharmaceuticals, computers, exotic cars and agricultural equipment. Shipped from Belgium to Nigeria, the boys from the army were always at the Lagos port to facilitate smooth and quick delivery.

It was discovered from interactions with several Nigerians that even in the 1990s, Dutch banks were inevitably the first targets for young criminals in need of small but easy money.

Olu recalled that at the time banks offered various incentives to attract customers. One was an instant credit line of 1,000 Dutch guilders on any new account. Every new account was entitled to the overdraft, which was repayable in small percentages from the regular income of the account holder.

Nigerians employed fraudulent means to open as many bank accounts as possible. They harvested 1,000 guilders on each and abandoned the accounts to open yet another set, using fake identities.

With the introduction of the Euro zone, the Nigerians moved on to yet another insidious scheme. When internet banking was not yet sophisticated, they devised a means to steal 3,000 euros at a time from Dutch banks.

First, they opened an account depositing 3,000 euros. Because the ATM could only allow a maximum withdrawal of 1,000 euros a day, they waited for weekends to strike.

They withdrew 1,000 euros late on a Friday, crossed the border to Belgium and withdrew another 1,000 euros on Saturday, then another 1,000 euros on Sunday.

Because these weekend withdrawals took till Monday to reflect, the Nigerians raced back to the Netherlands on Sunday. Very early on Monday morning, they were the first at the bank where they used not the ATM this time but their passbook to pull out their original 3,000 euros.

With fake documents and fake identities the cycle was repeated every weekend.

 Plundering Dutch Pension

Besides Dutch citizens falling prey to credit card fraud or advance fee scam, one group that has proved an easy target for Nigerian criminals in the Netherlands is Dutch pensioners.

The syndicates employed foot soldiers to watch the homes of retirees. Using master keys they raided mailboxes to steal bank statements. Next, they cloned the identity of the pensioner. Posing as the account holder, they applied to the bank for online banking, using the victim’s personal data.

Online banking solves all the problems since a young black African cannot physically impersonate an old white man or woman; not even with the best make-up.

The criminals worked as a team; the foot soldiers stole the documents and those who could read and write Dutch handled the cloning and correspondence. They changed the address of the pensioner as well as any other things necessary to cut the retiree off his account.

Once they ascertained the savings in an account they went on to wreck it, making purchases online.

After about 11,000 pensioners were robbed, the Dutch police two years ago took to delivering mail in sting operations in areas worst hit. Cameras were also set up in strategic locations.

It paid off with a good number of the mail thieves nabbed across the country. There was a lull, with the crooks beating a retreat to Belgium. But some of them are now back, devising day and night new ways to remain one step ahead of the law.

Yet another way Nigerians fleece banks in Europe is through cheque kitting. Using stolen identities, a Nigerian, for example, Dotun, opens cheque accounts at bank A and bank B.

He deposits 500 euros in Bank A and 0 euros in Bank B. He then writes a 100,000 euros cheque on his account in Bank A and deposits it in Bank B. Bank B, unaware that Dotun has insufficient funds in his account in Bank A, gives him immediate credit on his account.

During the three business days it takes Bank B to clear the cheque on his account in Bank A, Dotun writes a 100,000 euros cheque on his account in Bank B and deposits it in Bank A to cover his first 100,000 euros cheque.

Bank A immediately gives him credit on his account, and Bank B clears Dotun’s first 100,000 euros cheque.

He continues writing bad cheques between his accounts for a safe period before he moves on to another bank with another stolen identity.

The Chinese connection

Scams recently pulled off in the Netherlands strongly suggest the collaborations of Nigerian criminals with the Chinese mafia. One is in the area of cheque fraud.

Traditionally, Nigerians operate by hiding their real identity and location, using fake names and fake postal addresses, as well as communicating via anonymous free email accounts and mobile phones.

Victims have received unsolicited emails from companies, often claiming to be in China, looking for representatives to establish a business presence in the Netherlands or in other parts of Europe and for payments transfer.

Recipients of such emails are typically promised 10 per cent of those transfers from customers.

In reality, this is a cheque fraud that can work on a massive scale, causing damages of thousands to hundreds of thousands of euros. In some cases, names of legitimate companies are used for the scam. In other cases, the companies are non-existent.

The scammers are really not Chinese; they are not even Asians but Nigerians. They mail their “representative” fake cheques from phantom customers to deposit in the representative’s personal or business accounts. Often these are written on blank cheque forms stolen from legitimate businesses.

Provided the business whose cheque is stolen has sufficient funds in its account, the cheque will initially clear. It usually takes about a month for the cheque to bounce; this happens when the company whose cheque was stolen receives the deposited cheque it never wrote.

Before this the cheque clears the unsuspecting representative wires the amount to a bank account in another country; often Japan, Taiwan, China or the UK. By the time the fake cheque bounces the money is already out of the Netherlands or Europe, leaving the victim wondering what has hit him.

Nigerian fraudsters also target unlikely businesses such as art galleries.

Someone is interested in your artwork and wants it shipped overseas. Unknown to the gallery, the client has just paid with a fake credit card or fake certified U.S. bank cheque. But that is not even the problem.

The real problem is that for some reasons the rich client has paid the gallery in excess of the tag on the artwork. Being a decent person, the gallery owner does not refuse the customer’s request that the difference be wired back to him through Western Union. The cheque will turn out to be dude; by which time the gallery has lost a decent amount.

In 2007, a popular Nigerian movie actor, Nkem Owoh, was arrested in Amsterdam while performing at a concert. He was known for performing the song, I go chop your dollar. The song was featured in a controversial movie The Master in which Owoh plays a fraudster.

Over 200 Nigerians were reportedly arrested by the Dutch police who stormed the concert venue in a helicopter.

Nigeria’s anti-graft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), and the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NCC) had banned the song prior to the Amsterdam concert.

I go chop your dollar is a tribute to Nigerian advance fee fraudsters who have a robust scam industry and harvest millions of dollars yearly from victims in Europe, America, Australia and Asia.

Some of the victims include a former U.S. Congressman Ed Mezvinsky who, having bought into a dodgy business proposition, was made to travel to Nigeria several times to meet his ‘business partners’ and ultimately lost over $3 million.

The Washington politician did not only bag a seven-year jail sentence in his country, his son, Marc Mezvinsky, lost the chance to marry his heartthrob, Chelsea Clinton, daughter of former American President, Bill Clinton.

Not a few scam victims have committed suicide.

• In 2006, an American living in South Africa hanged himself after falling victim to 419.

• Kjetil Moe, a Norwegian businessman, was reported missing and eventually found dead in South Africa after an encounter with Nigerian scammers in Johannesburg.

The four Nigerians arrested in the Netherlands and extradited to face justice in the U.S. were

• Nnamdi Chizuba Anisiobi (of multiple aliases: Yellowman, Abdul Rahman, Michael Anderson, Edmund Walter, Helmut Schkinger, Nancy White, Jiggaman, and Namo);

• Anthony Friday Ehis (also known as John J. Smith, Toni N. Amokwu and Mr. T).

• Kesandu Egwuonwu (aka KeKe, Joey Martin Maxwell, David Mark).

• John Doe 1 (aka Eric Williams, Lee, Chucks and Nago).

To fleece their victims, they posed as throat-cancer patients living in the Southeast Asian nation of Brunei. Each said he was too ill to distribute his wealth of $55 million to charity and needed help.

They promised their victims a share of a large inheritance but requested payment of a variety of advance fees for legal representation, taxes and documentation.

After the victims had wire-transferred funds to pay the required fees, correspondence ceased. The victims lost more than $1.2 million.

Just as the Nigerian underworld abroad collaborates with Chinese, corrupt officials at home team up with unscrupulous Dutch businessmen to defraud the Nigerian government.

Shortly before the call for bid for the sale of Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL), a Dutch company, Pentascope, was hurriedly put together.

It was registered on a public holiday, January 1, 2002. From the Netherlands in 2003 suddenly came Pentascope, emerging the preferred bidder for NITEL.

By April 2004, when Pentascope was stripped of the contract within one year, it had itself stripped NITEL of about N100 billion.

When a team of NITEL directors travelled to the Netherlands to verify the claims put forward by Nigeria’s Bureau of Public Enterprise (BPE) and PricewaterhouseCoopers, the firm of auditors that was supposed to have done the due diligence on the Dutch firm, they were stunned by their discoveries.

Pentascope had only seven staff, a janitor, and operated from an abandoned old church building.

Olu pointed at Pentascope and Shell to support his argument that beautiful cities like Amsterdam were developed with wealth stolen from Africa. “We are here to take some of it back. For them to stop us, they must first stop their own people. Fair is fair. I call it tit-for-tat good neighbourliness,” he said.

When this reporter visited the Nigerian embassy at The Hague, the Ambassador, Nimota Akanbi, maintained that there are many decent Nigerians doing well in different professions in the Netherlands.

She, however, regretted the activities of a few bent on sullying the country’s image. She reiterated the embassy’s preparedness to assist Nigerian illegals with travel documents to return home.

The frustration and helplessness with Nigerian fraudsters is written all over the Dutch community. A popular T-shirt laments: “My money went to Nigeria and all I got is this lousy T-shirt.”

Investigations

N30 billion ‘MMM’ scam hits GTB, Zenith, Stanbic IBTC and Diamond banks

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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.

Endless Wait

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).

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Investigations

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.

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CMA CGM Centaurus
CMA CGM Centaurus used to illustrate the story - 'EXCLUSIVE: 10 mystery containers shipped into Nigeria by CMA CGM Delmas'

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

ECMU1348472 D668863812500KG

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.

Form M

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.

Payment receipt

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.

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Investigations

Exclusive: 44 companies import 500 containers using cloned Form M  

-over N9 billion diverted in tariff fraud

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A photo of Apapa Port in Lagos, Nigeria used to illustrate the story

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.

Cargo manifest

Cargo manifest

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 NigeriaThe 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).

 

Cargo manifest

Cargo manifest

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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