Federal Operations Unit, FOU Zone ‘A’, an anti-smuggling arm of the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS Zone A , Ikeja dragged two car dealers, one of them a Lebanese before the Federal High Court Ikeja, for tampering with the Customs seal placed on five exotic vehicles in their premises.
The duo who were dragged before Justice Saliu Seidu of the Federal High Court Ikeja, where bail was later secured with stringent conditions, were a Lebanese, Mr. Fares Chawich (male) and his Nigerian accomplice, Chief Emmanuel Ekong of 27A Bishop Oluwole Street Victoria Island Lagos; and No. 17 Sobo Arobiodu Street GRA Ikeja respectively.
The FOU Controller, Turaki Usman Adamu said while responding to media inquiry on the subject, that his command was compelled to take the action, as a result of the severity of the illegality involved; and the need to deter potential law-breakers, from attempting similar action.
Stressing that the illegal act of breaking Customs seal was in violation of Section 145(5) of the Customs and Excise Management Act Cap C45 laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 2004, the Command Boss pointed out that intelligence activity led to discovering the exotic vehicles parked in the premises of the accused in Ikeja GRA were grossly undervalued in clear, and which was in clear violation of the Federal Government import policy.
The Controller listed the five vehicles as: BRABUS G800, Model (2013) Chassis No. 212718; Maybach 625 Model (2009) Chassis No. 002513; Mclaren SLR Model (2009) Chassis No. 001960; Aston Martin Model (2009) Chassis No. 815026 and Ferrari 458 Model (2013) Chassis No. 195200
He stressed that the Unit had written a letter to the accused following intelligence information that the vehicles did not comply with standard import procedure in terms of due diligence; stressing that the documents of the vehicles were eventually subjected to system check at the Unit and was discovered that the vehicles were grossly undervalued.
The Controller further stated that “in line with Service procedure and in our quest to recover appropriate duty accruable on the vehicles, placed them on Customs seal after raising a detention notice which one Mr. Fares Chawich who stood as surety had undertaken to pay”.
The Controller regretted that instead of the first accused coming forward for regularization of duty, he however broke the seal and removed the vehicles.
“It was intelligence activity that led to the discovery of one of the vehicles in Victoria Island area of Lagos”, the Controller indicated, adding that the total amount of outstanding duty from the vehicles stood at N232, 964,169.00 .
Consequently, a five count charge, bordering on intent to defraud the Federal Government of unpaid duty totaling was N232,964,169.00 was slammed on them.
The first accused, it was further learnt had been remanded at the Ikoyi Prisons pending his ability to meet the bail conditions, just as the second accused, Emmanuel Ekong, now at large, is being tracked.
The Comptroller also confirmed that some other exotic vehicles evacuated from the same facility were now being investigated too, with a view to ascertaining the appropriateness of the clearing procedure.
“Investigations are still on-going to unravel the circumstances and source or sources of importation” he stated further, stressing the preparedness of the command to make sharp practices an almost impossible task.
In the meantime, the Command’s aim of boosting inter-agency collaboration and synergy got a boost with the visits of the Commander 9 Brigade of the Nigerian Army, Brigadier General A.M Sabo, and also a delegation from the Lagos State Ministry of Environmental Services led by a Deputy Director in the Ministry Dr. (Mrs.) Iyabo Philips, on the same day.
The Commander on arrival was received by the Comptroller alongside other principal officers in the Unit, after which he inspected a quarter guard mounted in his honour by officers/men of the FOU Ikeja.
The Brigade Commander in his presentation expressed satisfaction with the quality of the guard of honour, noting that his visit was informed by the desire of the Nigeria Army to further strengthen the existing relationship between them and the Nigeria Customs Service.
He stated that though he had planned the visit earlier than now, the exigencies of office had partially scuttled it.
He expressed satisfaction with the growing cordial working relationship between the Military and the Customs and noted that such mutual understanding would further enhance mutual cooperation; genuinely eulogizing the Customs Management under the Comptroller-General of Customs for the reforms which had been carried out in the Service.
Turaki Usman Adamu in his response thanked the Brigade Commander for the visit, stating that it would afford the two agencies the opportunity to further cement the existing relationship.
He also thanked the Military particularly those around the Border areas for their supportive role to the Customs whenever they were called upon; and requested the Commander to continually assist the Service through operational backups whenever the need arise.
When the Comptroller however received the delegation from the Lagos State Government, it was to explore how the two could further make the State glow more beautifully with eliminating man-induced traffic bottlenecks.
The leader of the delegation, in her opening remarks commended the high level of environmental sanitation of the Unit and noted that the visit was aimed at familiarizing with the leadership of FOU ‘A’.
She highlighted that the Lagos Ministry of Environment was poised to ensuring sustainable environmental management which she stated led to the creation of the Zero Tolerance programme; explaining that the essence was to curb environmental abuses, degradations and manipulations.
In his response, the Turaki promised that the Customs would always support the effort of the Lagos State Government to keep Lagos clean, assuring the visitors of the Service determination for an enviable synergy, even as lauded the leadership qualities of Governor Babatunde Fashola , particularly, his un-spared commitment to the cause of good environment, through remarkable urban renewal policy.