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Alleged organ trafficking: Ekweremadu, wife risk long jail term if convicted

Alleged organ trafficking: Ekweremadu, wife risk long jail term if convicted

The Specialist Crime Team of the Metropolitan Police in London has arrested a former Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, and his wife, Beatrice.

They were arrested for alleged conspiracy to harvest the organs of a child, who is currently in protective custody.

If convicted, the couple may get a maximum of life sentence or 12 months imprisonment or a fine or both on summary conviction under the United Kingdom’s Modern Slavery Act 2015.

The Act read, “A person guilty of an offence under Section 1 or 2 is liable (a)on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for life; (b)on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or a fine or both.”

A statement by the Metropolitan Police said, “A woman and a man were charged today (Thursday) with conspiring to arrange the travel of a child into the UK to harvest organs.

“The charges follow an investigation by the Metropolitan Police’s Specialist Crime team.

“[A] Beatrice Nwanneka Ekweremadu, 55 (10.9.66) of Nigeria is charged with conspiracy to arrange/facilitate travel of another person with a view to exploitation, namely organ harvesting.

“[B] Ike Ekweremadu, 60 (12.05.62) of Nigeria is charged with conspiracy to arrange/facilitate the travel of another person with a view to exploitation, namely organ harvesting.”

The investigation was launched after detectives were alerted to potential offences under modern slavery legislation in May 2022, the force said.

The PUNCH gathered that the senator’s daughter needed an organ transplant.

A source said, “One of his children needs an organ transplant. Probably, the arrangement was not tidy in the face of British laws.”

Our correspondents learnt that Ekweremadu and his wife were arrested on Tuesday at the Heathrow Airport in London en route to Istanbul in Turkey.

They were arraigned before a UK Magistrate court on Thursday.

According to the court proceedings, as reported by Arise TV monitored by one of our correspondents, Ekweremadu and Beatrice appeared at Uxbridge Magistrates’ Court.

The station reported, “The alleged victim, in this case, is a homeless 15-year-old boy who was brought to the UK by Mr and Mrs Ekweremadu off the streets of Lagos, Nigeria.

“They are both charged with conspiracy to arrange or facilitate the travel of another person with the aim of exploitation, namely organ harvesting.

“They conspired to bring a child from Nigeria, a 15-year-old boy to harvest his organ; the boy was promised a better life. The prosecutors told the court that the former Deputy Senate President procured a passport for the boy and claimed he was 21 years old but discovered that he was 15 years old.

“The court learnt that Ekweremadu’s daughter had been battling with kidney failure and has been on dialysis for a while and needed a kidney transplant. So, the boy was brought in to give one of his kidneys to the daughter.”

Reports said the doctor billed to perform the transplant suspended it after learning that the boy identified as Ukpo David, was a minor.

AriseTV further reported that the court heard, “The Royal Free (hospital) cancelled the procedure and returned the boy to the custody of the family who treated him badly and he had to run away and slept on the streets for two days.

“It was while sleeping on the streets that the boy went to the police who investigated the matter and arrested the Ekweremadus at the Heathrow Airport on their way to Istanbul, Turkey, to procure another organ because they were unable to harvest the boy’s organ.

“Ekweremadu was arrested with $20,000 in his possession which has been seized.”

The senator and his wife got legal representation and begged the court for bail, stating that their passports had been seized but the judge denied them bail and remanded them in custody till July 7, 2022.

However, a letter written to the British High Commission in Abuja in which the embattled senator sought a visa for Ukpo later surfaced on social media.

The letter dated December 28, 2021, titled, “Re: Medical visa application for Ukpo David,’ read, “I am writing in support of the visa application made by Mr Ukpo Nwamini David who is currently having medical investigations for a kidney donation to Ms Sonia Ekweremadu.

“David and Sonia will be at the Royal Free Hospital London, and I will be providing the necessary funding. I have enclosed a statement of my bank account. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you require additional information.”

Meanwhile, the British High Commission told one of our correspondents that it was aware of the case.

The commission’s spokesman, Dean Hurlock, however, refused to confirm if the Mission received Ekweremadu’s letter.

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Ondo Rep offers N50m scholarship to 1000 students

Ondo Rep offers N50m scholarship to 1000 students

A member of the House of Representatives from Ondo State, Mr Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, has launched a N50 million scholarship scheme for 1000 indigent students, who are indigenes of Akoko area of the state.

The lawmaker, representing Akoko North-East/North-West Federal Constituency, said the scheme was to assist the indigent students who were in tertiary institutions across the country.

In a statement made available to our correspondent on Monday, Tunji-Ojo, who is the Chairman, House Committee on Niger-Delta Affairs, said the gesture was part of his efforts to contribute to the educational development of his constituency and state in general.

According to the statement, the registration for the scholarship scheme, which had commenced on Monday, was for indigent students who were from the Federal Constituency.

The statement read, “This is in fulfillment of my education support drive which has seen me facilitate several blocks of classrooms, computer sets, educational materials, free Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination forms and coaching for 2,000 students and other notable interventions in the education sector.

“The education support drive is to help reduce the burden of education on the parents and also ensure that no child is denied access to quality education.”

“The registration form is totally free and can be obtained from presidents of students’ bodies in each community in the Federal Constituency. This is to ensure that nobody is denied access to the form.”

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US WNBA’s Star Brittney Griner appeals her Russian prison sentence

US WNBA’s Star Brittney Griner appeals her Russian prison sentence

Lawyers for American basketball star Brittney Griner have filed an appeal of her nine-year Russian prison sentence for drug possession, Russian news agencies reported Monday, amid talks between the U.S. and Russia that could lead to a high-profile prisoner swap.

Griner, an eight-time all-star center with the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury and two-time Olympic gold medalist, was convicted Aug. 4 after police said they found vape canisters containing cannabis oil in her luggage at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport.

Griner admitted that she had the canisters in her luggage, but said she had inadvertently packed them in haste and that she had no criminal intent. Her defense team presented written statements that she had been prescribed cannabis to treat pain.

Her February arrest came at a time of heightened tensions between Moscow and Washington, just days before Russia sent troops into Ukraine. At the time, Griner, recognized as one of the greatest players in WNBA history, was returning to Russia, where she plays during the U.S. league’s offseason.

Lawyer Maria Blagovolina was quoted by Russian news agencies on Monday as saying the appeal was filed, as was expected, but the grounds for it weren’t immediately clear.

The nine-year sentence was close to the maximum of 10 years, and Blagovolina and co-counsel Alexander Boykov said after the conviction that the punishment was excessive. They said that in similar cases defendants have received an average sentence of about five years, with about a third of them granted parole.

Before her conviction, the U.S. State Department declared Griner to be “wrongfully detained” — a charge that Russia has sharply rejected.

Reflecting the growing pressure on the Biden administration to do more to bring Griner home, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken took the unusual step of revealing publicly in July that Washington had made a “substantial proposal” to get Griner home, along with Paul Whelan, an American serving a 16-year sentence in Russia for espionage.

Blinken didn’t elaborate, but The Associated Press and other news organizations have reported that Washington has offered to free Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who is serving a 25-year sentence in the U.S. and once earned the nickname the “Merchant of Death.”

On Sunday, a senior Russian diplomat said talks about an exchange have been conducted.

“This quite sensitive issue of the swap of convicted Russian and U.S. citizens is being discussed through the channels defined by our presidents,” Alexander Darchiev, head of the Foreign Ministry’s North America department, told state news agency Tass. “These individuals are, indeed, being discussed. The Russian side has long been seeking the release of Viktor Bout. The details should be left to professionals.”

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China announces new drills as US delegation visits Taiwan

China announces new drills as US delegation visits Taiwan

China announced more military drills around Taiwan as the self-governing island’s president met with members of a new U.S. congressional delegation on Monday, threatening to renew tensions between Beijing and Washington after a similar recent visit by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi angered China.

Pelosi was the highest-level member of the U.S. government to visit Taiwan in 25 years, and her trip prompted nearly two weeks of threatening military exercises by China, which claims the island as its own. In those drills, Beijing fired missiles over the island and into the Taiwan Strait and sent warplanes and navy ships across the waterway’s midline, which has long been a buffer between the sides that split amid civil war in 1949.

The latest trip began Sunday with little notice ahead of time. The delegation was due to leave late Monday.

China accuses the U.S. of encouraging the island’s independence through the sale of weapons and engagement between U.S. politicians and the island’s government. Washington says it does not support independence, has no formal diplomatic ties with the island and maintains that the two sides should settle their dispute peacefully — but it is legally bound to ensure the island can defend itself against any attack.

“China will take resolute and strong measures to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said at a daily briefing Monday, after Beijing announced new drills in the seas and skies surrounding Taiwan. “A handful of U.S. politicians, in collusion with the separatist forces of Taiwan independence, are trying to challenge the one-China principle, which is out of their depth and doomed to failure.”

The new exercises were intended to be “resolute response and solemn deterrent against collusion and provocation between the U.S. and Taiwan,” the Defense Ministry said earlier.

It was not clear if the new drills had already started since the ministry gave no details about where and when they would be conducted, in contrast to previous rounds.

The U.S. lawmakers, led by Democratic Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, met with President Tsai Ing-wen, Foreign Minister Joseph Wu and legislators, according to the American Institute in Taiwan, Washington’s de facto embassy on the island.

At their meeting, Tsai said her administration was working with allies to ensure stability in the Taiwan Strait and maintain the status quo — a reference to the island’s self-governance, separate from Beijing.

“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year has shown the threat that authoritarian nations pose to the global order,” Tsai said.

Markey responded by saying Washington and Taipei had a “moral obligation to do everything we can to prevent an unnecessary conflict and Taiwan has demonstrated incredible restraint and discretion during challenging times.”

The senator also highlighted legislation intended to boost political and economic ties with Taiwan, especially in the critical semiconductor industry. Taiwan is a crucial provider of computer chips for the global economy, including China’s high-tech sectors, and beyond the geopolitical risks of rising tensions in the region, an extended crisis in the Taiwan Strait could have major implications for international supply chains at a time when the world is already facing disruptions and uncertainty.

Markey is one of the few members of Congress still serving who voted for the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act that ensured continued relations with the island following the switch of U.S. diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing. The other members of the delegation are Republican Rep. Aumua Amata Coleman Radewagen, a delegate from American Samoa, and Democrats John Garamendi and Alan Lowenthal from California and Don Beyer from Virginia.

China says it wants to use peaceful means to bring Taiwan under its control, but its recent saber rattling has emphasized its threat to take the island by military force. The earlier drills appeared to be a rehearsal of a blockade or attack on Taiwan that would force the cancellation of commercial flights and disrupt shipping to Taiwan’s main ports as well as cargo passing through the Taiwan Strait, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

The exercises prompted Taiwan to put its military on alert, but were met largely with defiance or apathy among the public used to living in China’s shadow.

The American “visit at this time is of great significance, because the Chinese military exercise is (intended) to deter U.S. congressmen from visiting Taiwan,” Lo Chih-cheng, the chair of the Taiwan legislature’s Foreign and National Defense Committee, said after meeting with the U.S. lawmakers.

“Their visit this time proves that China cannot stop politicians from any country to visit Taiwan, and it also conveys an important message that the American people stand with the Taiwanese people,” Lo said.

A senior White House official on Asia policy said last week that China had used Pelosi’s visit as a pretext to launch an intensified pressure campaign against Taiwan, jeopardizing peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and in the broader region.

“China has overreacted, and its actions continue to be provocative, destabilizing, and unprecedented,” Kurt Campbell, a deputy assistant to U.S. President Joe Biden, said on a call with reporters on Friday.

Campbell said the U.S. would send warships and planes through the Taiwan Strait in the next few weeks and is developing a roadmap for trade talks with Taiwan that he said the U.S. intends to announce in the coming days.

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