By Simon Ateba/Lagos @simonateba
Nigeria’s anti-drug trafficking agency, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), has arrested two passengers with 89 Automated Teller Machine (ATM) debit cards at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos, barely a week after it announced the arrest of another passenger with 108 debit cards at the same airport.
NDLEA commander at the Lagos airport, Mr. Ahmadu Garba, said the suspects; Nweke Pauline Osita, 40, and Egesiokwu Frank Chukwudi, 41, were arrested at the weekend.
“We arrested Nweke Pauline Osita with sixty-five (65) debit cards and Egesiokwu Frank Chukwudi with twenty-four (24) debit cards during screening of passengers on an Ethiopian airline flight to China,” Garba said.
A week ago, NDLEA announced the arrest of a 34-year old trader, Udeh Onuora Pascal, at the Lagos airport for being in possession of 108 automatic teller machine (ATM) debit cards.
That arrest took place while the suspect was attempting to board a Qatar Airline flight to China. The debit cards he had belonged to five commercial banks.
First City Monument Bank (FCMB) had the highest number of cards with 58. Stanbic IBC Bank has 23 cards, Zenith Bank 19, Fidelity Bank 6 and Diamond Bank 2.
With two other arrests at the weekend, NDLEA Chairman, Mr. Ahmadu Giade, warned passengers smuggling Automated Teller Machine cards to desist from such act or be prepared to face the long arm of the law.
Giade said the latest two suspects conspired with others to evade scrutiny from government agencies by opening various bank accounts with the aim of using the debit cards for daily withdrawals abroad.
“This is a process of money laundering where multiple debit cards are used to withdraw money to circumvent the minimum amount of daily withdrawal. That criminal plan will not work because we shall continue to seize such cards and arrest the perpetrators at all entry and exit points,” Giade said in a statement.
The director of Assets and Financial Investigation of the Agency, Mrs. Victoria Egbase, was quoted as saying that the written statements by the suspects had been taken “under caution” and that preliminary investigation points to the fact that the various bank accounts were opened to facilitate withdrawal of money outside the country.
Osita, an Onitsha based trader who was caught with 65 debit cards said was quoted by the NDLEA as saying that the cards belonged to friends and business partners.
“I am a trader. I sell men clothes at Onitsha. I was on my way to China to buy goods when NDLEA officers arrested me with 65 debit cards. The cards belong to my friends, relatives and business partners,” NDLEA quoted him as saying . He hails from Enugu State and is married with two children.
The second suspect, Chukwudi who has a boutique at Aba, Abia State was found in possession of 24 debit cards.
The NDLEA Chairman has directed that the suspects be transferred to the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) for further Investigation, spokesman Mitchell Ofoyeju said in a statement.