re- FG set to deport Vaswani brothers, five others

FG set to deport Vaswani brothers, five others 
Monday, 20 April 2009 00:00 

•Stallion Group workers appeal to government

Kunle Olasanmi, Abuja

THEIR absence from the country notwithstanding, the Federal Government has concluded plans to “officially deport the Vaswani brothers.” “This time around, they will be deported… permanently. The last time they were deported by the Obasanjo administration, it was not tidy enough. That was why they came back but now, they won’t step on the shores of Nigeria again and their companies will be seized by the Federal Government,” a Presidency source said at the weekend.

Also to be deported are five Indian directors of the Stallion Group, owned by the Vaswanis.

Indeed, the government is said to be determined to send packing all identified economic saboteurs in its renewed war to put the economy on good footing.

It was learnt that the battle would involve Nigerians and foreigners.

Sources said the government is wielding the big stick because of the several alleged economic crimes committed by the brothers – Sunil, Haresh and Maresh – against the state, the most recent of which is the N2.5 billion rice importation scandal.

The three brothers are currently in Dubai.

They have been doing business in Nigeria for decades, trading mainly in commodities and automobiles.

Some of the companies in the Stallion Group include Popular Foods, The Honda Place and Premium Foods.

Besides, some foreigners working in the group who were allegedly substituted with Nigerians, will be permanently banned from returning to the country.

The decision to deport some of the foreigners working for the Vaswanis was due to the investigation carried out by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) based on a letter sent to the agency by the Deputy Comptroller-General (Operations) of the Nigerian Immigration Services, Mrs. R.S. Uzoma.

Entitled Investigation Activities: Case of Economic Sabotage and Allied Offences reported against Stallion Group and dated March 30, this year, the 60-page document gave details of the names, nationalities, residence permit numbers and validities of the close to 1,200 Koreans, Indians and Filipinos working in the Stallion Group.

The source said many of them were brought into the country under the guise of being professionals like engineers, “whereas they don’t have such qualifications. While bringing many foreigners into the country, they breached expatriate quota and engaged in activities inimical to Nigeria’s economic interest.”

In the latest scam, the brothers were alleged to have defrauded the country to the tune of N2.5 billion through underpayment of Customs duties while importing rice.

When faced with details of the Customs papers, they initially agreed to pay the money but later changed their minds.

They instead headed for the court to stop the government from engaging in any form of arrest until the determination of the suit.

It was also gathered that the relationship between the brothers and the government is not cordial because in the last two years, they have obtained 12-ex parte motions against the latter.

In 2003, the EFCC investigated the Stallion Group, which led to the deportation of the brothers in 2004, but their companies in the country were allowed to carry on with their businesses.

In 2007, they returned, following entreaties.

Meanwhile, some Nigerian workers in the group have appealed to President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua to spare the embattled brothers.

A statement signed at the weekend by Alhaji Tajudeen Olalere, a director in the company, appealed to Mr President to “stay with his due process mantra and not allow his government to be used for any unlawful sealing or deportation, which will hurt not only the credibility of the government, but the prospect of foreign direct investment in Nigeria”.

The statement, which he issued on behalf of other Nigerians, further said: “Any thought of deportation in the middle of a judicial process will detract from the government’s impeccable due process credential. It will hurt the good prospects of foreign investments in the country and impact negatively on the 10,000 Nigerian families employed under our companies.

“If the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) believes it has a case against them, let them present themselves to the jurisdiction of the courts. Since we are already in court, it would amount to a negation of (the) due process policy of the government to act with arbitrariness on the matter.

“We reaffirm our confidence in the courts to justly and fairly adjudicate on the on-going dispute with the Customs. Our companies have done no wrong. The rice imports in dispute met all the requirements of the law and Customs guidelines on importation and we are ready to prove that in court.”

The Nigerians told the government to look beyond the antics of “a powerful group of barons who desire a monopoly in the Nigerian commodity trade” and who, they allege, have ruined several other Nigerians and are determined to see the back of the Vaswanis to halt their growing effort to institute the local production of rice in Nigeria.

Olalere alleged that the recent crisis started when the Vaswani brothers signed a N162 billion agreement with the Federal Government to produce rice locally, together with the world’s largest rice producer.

He added: “The new project is billed to start with farm acrages in 10 states and is expected to provide three million job openings at the first instance as mentioned by the Minister of Agriculture.

“We are indeed surprised by the rather harsh EFCC action when the matter is under due process with the relevant government departments, namely the Customs and Ministry of Finance. During the time that rice prices skyrocketed worldwide in 2008, in line with the FG’s import strategy on ensuring food security, we responded to the requirements by making supply arrangements of sufficient quantities internationally between May-October, 2008.

“The progressive strategy of the Federal Government was very successful, reducing the prices of rice for the consumer from N15,000 per bag to N6,000 per bag. All of these shipments were Customs-cleared and partly discharged before the stipulated duty-free deadline of October 31, 2008, and were also partially discharged in Lagos Port before proceeding to Port Harcourt. These shipments, their clearance documents and their arrival details were legally well documented.

“However, in January 2009, three months later, the Customs chose to claim duties against these last shipments. As payment of duties would undermine the very purpose of the Federal Government’s move to stabilise local prices and ensure food security, the Stallion Group contested these decisions officially with the Customs and have provided all requisite information since then.

“It is also pertinent to note that during the same time in October 2008, several other shipments of rice imported by other importers have not gone under the EFCC radar and are being allowed to go uncontested.

“Any action against Stallion done in haste without due process might adversely impact millions of Nigerian households benefitting from the group’s multi-faceted business operations as employees, dealers, distributors, ancillary industry entrepreneurs, service providers and consumers of essential products at fair prices.

“The impact could be severe across all Nigerian states wherein the group’s factories are producing rice, plastics, chemicals, packaging, motorcycles, textiles and distributing rice, fertilisers, food, building materials, plant, equipment and other products.

“Our group is an established conglomerate in Nigeria for more than 40 years having invested in a nationwide infrastructure, comprising industries and other assets worth hundreds of billions, employing thousands of employees. Our recent projects in agriculture involve further billions and represent our continued commitment to the country’s progress.

“We pledge that the Stallion Group will remain law-abiding and focused despite the determination of our detractors to set us on a collision course with the Federal Government and the EFCC, especially at a time when we have embarked on a nationwide agricultural programme to contribute our part in government’s objective of achieving self-sufficiency on rice production in Nigeria.

“We also pledge that we will satisfy all of Federal Government’s and EFCC’s lawful requirements under a due process to get us cleared of any wrong-doing.”

source: click here

Should I say ‘right step and wrong direction‘ or exactly what?

I have been following this Vaswani brothers saga with much zest. As much as the Federal Government of Nigeria and the EFCC would want to get to the root of the matter, the question I have is: what is / has this same Federal Government done to our bonafide political office holders, who have become house-hold names in Graft, Corruption and lootery.

Have they been arrested, have they been questioned, and when will they be deported?

 

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