Namibia: Customs Fraud Accused Deny 3 215 Charges

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Eight people charged in a massive customs fraud case involving several Chinese-owned businesses trading in Namibia have denied guilt on a total of 3 215 charges during their latest appearance in the Windhoek Magistrate's Court.

The eight accused pleaded not guilty to 1 607 charges of fraud and 1 608 counts of money laundering during a court appearance before magistrate Vanessa Stanley on Friday. They did not give any plea explanations to the court, with the three defence lawyers representing the eight telling the magistrate that the basis of their defence to the charges would be disclosed during their trial.

With the pleas of the eight accused on record, their case was postponed to 5 July to await a decision from the prosecutor general on the further course the matter would be taking.

In the dock on Friday were Walvis Bay-based businessman and former customs officer Laurensius Julius (42), Chinese businessman and presidential friend Jack Huang (51), and Chinese citizens Tao Huizhong, Gua Zhihua, Jia Hongying, Cao Shuhua, Li Dadi and Zhang Ying. Another of the accused, Huang Jinrong, is wanted by the police after he failed to return to court following his release on bail of N$1,5 million in January 2017.

In the charges on which the eight gave their pleas, the prosecution is alleging that they committed fraud and money laundering during the period from 2013 to 2016 by presenting documentation to Nedbank Namibia in which the value of goods claimed to have been imported into Namibia was overstated, with the aim of sending inflated amounts of money out of Namibia to supposedly pay the suppliers of the imported goods.

Two businesses operated by Julius - Extreme Customs Clearing Services (XCCS) and Organise Freight Services - were acting as clearing agents for 105 importers in Namibia over the period from 2013 to 2016, and in that time sent more than N$3,1 billion out of Namibia, ostensibly as payment for imported goods, it is alleged in the state's charges.

However, in documents presented to Nedbank Namibia for payments to be made to the suppliers of imported goods, the costs of freight and other charges for shipments sent to Namibia were overstated so that increased amounts of foreign currency could be sent out of the country, or the value of imported goods had been understated in documents presented to the customs authorities for the payment of import duty and value-added tax on the imports, the state is charging.

In respect of the 1 607 counts of fraud against the eight accused, the state is alleging that while a total value of about N$213,4 million for goods imported into Namibia was declared to the customs authorities, the value declared to Nedbank Namibia to have payments made to the suppliers of the goods was about N$2,78 billion. It is also alleged in the charges that the accused deposited large amounts in cash, totalling more than N$3,2 billion, which did not tally with the nature and size of their businesses in Namibia, into the bank accounts of XCCS and Organise Freight Services, and that Julius and XCCS received income of about N$35,1 million from processing payments made offshore from the bank accounts of his businesses on behalf of his co-accused.

The first arrests in the case were made in December 2016. All of the accused have subsequently been released on bail.

Julius, Tao and the fugitive Huang Jinrong were granted bail in an amount of N$1,5 million each in January 2017, after they had spent a month in custody, while Jack Huang was released on bail of N$1 million after his arrest in February 2017. Gua, who was arrested in March 2017, was also granted bail of N$1,5 million, while Jia and Cao were released on bail of N$500 000 each, and Li and Zhang are free on bail of N$300 000 each.

The state was represented by prosecutor Salomon Kanyemba on Friday. Defence lawyers Dirk Conradie, Louis du Pisani and Sisa Namandje represented the accused.

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