Fruit Racket Uncovered

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By Chrispin Inambao WINDHOEK A customs and excise officer was arrested at a relative’s house in Katutura, where he sought refuge from ACC agents who were hot in pursuit of him on suspicion he masterminded grand fraud. Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) agents arrested the suspect, Stephanus R. Owoseb, who is linked to an elaborate fraud scheme that saw crucial data being erased from a computer enabling a fruit wholesaler to avoid paying import duties on fruit. The fruits in all instances were imported from South Africa, and the scheme that was executed with great precision possibly starved State coffers of millions of dollars. Owoseb, who until his suspension was the Chief Customs and Excise Officer at Noordoewer, the largest border post on the Namibian side along the Orange River, in return solicited bribes exceeding N$769 268, paid directly into a Bank Windhoek savings account that he opened using the names and particulars of his son aged 12. After the truck crisscrossed the country covering several hundreds of kilometres from the entry point and safely off-loading its cargo, the importer identified as Dirk Fruit by ACC Director Paulus K. Noa, and operating from Osaka, allegedly deposited the money. Noa said the official “enriched himself” through the well-orchestrated scheme in which he “used to clear” the imports of the fruit retailer with a warehouse at Oshakati. Amounts ranging from N$1 000 to N$15 000 were deposited into the minor’s account at times by “unknown” depositors and by the fruit importer starting from the festive season in 2001 when at least N$5 000 was deposited during that short period of time. From January 2, 2002, the deposits increased gradually to N$5 000 and by October these deposits had grown to N$10 000 per transaction by October of the same year. In one instance on December 18, 2003 a week before December 25, 2003, a deposit that could more likely be described as a “Christmas gift” in the amount of N$17 000 was deposited. And in the period January 2002 to December 2003, unidentified depositors made deposits amounting to N$236 503 but in some of these transactions, Dirk Fruit was the depositor. Other depositors were identified as a certain Amy Perkirs, one A. Ruimin, one S. Effender and Sandra Jacobs from Dirk Fruit while another name listed by the ACC is that of Silvia Kapembe. Others are Y. Abrahams, Gairoe Abrahams, A. Samsdien and one Toby. From January 6, 2004 to December 24 2004, the detained customs and excise chief allegedly pocketed a princely sum of N$327 839 in bribes from the fruit retailer. Noa has avowed his agents will clamp down with an iron fist on fraud and other crimes because these offences are counterproductive to the country’s economic growth and he strongly feels “this is how many economies have become bankrupt.” As the suspect who was arrested at around 22h00 appeared yesterday before Magistrate Tuyenikelao Haikongo at the Katutura Magistrate’s Court charged with fraud or alternatively theft, the ACC indicated it would staunchly oppose any bail for him. The reason being the anti-graft agency is concerned the accused might interfere with its witnesses and this could impact negatively on what seems a watertight case. However, despite ACC’s fears the evidence is apparently damning and its legal implications could echo well into the corridors of the fruit selling industry. At yesterday’s brief court session where the accused was represented by lawyer Henrico von Wielligh from the firm P.D. Theron & Associates, the case was postponed to February 28 for a formal bail application while the wide-ranging investigation continues. The accused initially appeared nervous in a blue short-sleeved T-shirt but later relaxed and he did not appear worried as this journalist took several pictures of him while he consulted his lawyer shortly before the court session. He remains a guest at one of the police stations while awaiting a bail application. Initially it was indicated the accused would be transported back to Noordoewer, as the crime was allegedly committed in that judicial jurisdiction.