Huge bail for N$3.5 billion fraud

Windhoek � The three men currently charged in the massive fraud and tax evasion case involving N$3.5 billion were each granted bail in the amount of N$1.5 million yesterday in the Windhoek Magistrate's Court, with stringent conditions attached.

Magistrate Alweendo Sebby Venasius ordered the two Chinese nationals Tao Huizhong, 46, and Jinrong Huang, 36, are to leave their passports in the care of the investigating officer and may not apply for new travelling documents.

They are also to report twice weekly, on Mondays and Fridays between the hours of 08h00 and 13h00, at the Oshikango Police Station and may not leave the district of Ohangwena without the consent of the investigating officer. It was further ordered that copies of their passport photos and descriptions of the accused together with the bail order must be circulated to all border posts and at Hosea International Airport.

Namibian citizen Julius Laurentius, 40, with the same conditions, must report to the Walvis Bay Police Station.

The accused are also not allowed to discuss the case with State witnesses or their co-accused. Any change in residential address must be communicated to the investigating officer within three days, Venasius further ordered.

The magistrate said the State did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Huizhong, Huang and Laurentius are flight risks or that they will interfere with witnesses or the investigation if released on bail. Venasius further said the State failed miserably in its quest to convince him that public opinion or the interest of justice would be compromised if the accused would be remanded on bail.

The magistrate was adamant that no evidence was placed before court that proved any of the State's allegations. He said the Namibian Constitution which overrides all laws in the country clearly says that all persons are equal before the law, whether indigenous or foreign, and all liberties must be accorded them.

He said that in relation to the State's claim that the two Chinese nationals are foreigners who owe no allegiance to Namibia and can easily pack up and go back to China, which does not have an extradition agreement with Namibia, the investigating officer did not help the court in any way with his testimony. According to him the investigating officer's evidence was biased and evasive. He was unable to provide any hard facts for his assertions, the magistrate stated. With regard to the assertion that the accused are likely to commit further offences should they be released on bail, Venasius stressed that no previous convictions were proven against all the accused. In fact, Venasius said, it was based on an over-avid imagination.

The three accused were arrested following an investigation into the outflow of foreign currency from Namibia instigated by the Bank of Namibia last year.

During the investigation it was discovered that N$3.5 billion was shipped out of the country through Laurentius' business Xtreme Customs Clearing Services, amongst others.

Investigators unearthed that imports were under-declared at customs and over-declared at the bank, resulting in losses of billions of dollars to Namibia.

The three men along with 48-year-old Honggang Zhu, who was arrested in Ondangwa and appeared before the magistrate's court there on December 22 last year and granted bail of N$500 000 the same day, are charged with counts of fraud and money laundering for allegedly defrauding the Ministry of Finance between the start of 2010 and December 19 last year with the calculation and payment of customs duties.

The matter has been postponed to February 9 for further investigations.

Sisa Namandje is representing the two Chinese nationals, while Advocate Louis Botes on instructions from Dirk Conradie, appears for Laurentius. The State is represented by Public Prosecutor Rowan van Wyk.

Source: New Era Newspaper Namibia