A plan by a suspected five-man gang to defraud an unnamed Cotonou-based Benin Republic Minister of about N25bn has been foiled by the Nigerian Navy, Delta State Command.
The syndicate, it was learnt, forged official documents belonging to the Nigeria Navy and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation with the intent to defraud unsuspecting businessmen.
The operation, which led to the arrest of the members of the gang, the Navy said, was carried out following a tip-off. Members of the gang were arrested at Mimi Hotel in Warri.
Some of the documents recovered from the gang were naval and NNPC Letter heads for clearance of vessels navigating the waterways and logos belonging to the force.
The Commanding Officer, NNS Delta, Commodore Stephen Kor, who paraded the suspected fraudsters on Tuesday, said investigation had shown that the gang, working with a company called El Jorajo, had earlier defrauded a Lagos-based company, Delek Marine Services Limited of N10m on July 19 this year.
It was learnt that the syndicate had, through their agents, contacted the Benin Republic Minister about a vessel, MT Great China, owned by the NNPC.
From the forged documents made available to journalists, it was gathered that the vessel containing close to two million litres of crude was supposed to sail from Bonny to Cotonou later this month.
The Navy, which displayed some of the documents forged by the syndicate, insisted that MT Great China had never been programmed for movement outside its present location, adding that the suspected criminals set out to defraud their unsuspecting client.
Kor said, “Following a tip-off, NNS Delta Special Patrol Team arrested five suspected fraudsters that specialise in using fake Nigerian Navy and NNPC letter headed documents to defraud members of the public.”
Kor added that the activities of the syndicate was capable of “undermining’’, the authority and credibility of the Nigerian Navy. He said the suspects would be handed over to the appropriate authorities for prosecution.
Some of the suspects including Freeborn Okiewhrie, el-Nasah Ogbo and Friday Okereke, denied that the documents were fake.
Okiewhrie, said to be the link man of the group, said the multi-billion naira deal was genuine, adding that he was surprised he was arrested.
He said, “The minister in Cotonou wanted to buy Forcados Light Crude valued at about N20bn to N25bn. The vessel is already pregnant (loaded) and is currently in the free waters. So, I am surprised I was arrested.”
But Kor maintained that all the signatures of the naval officers on the document were forged.