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MP Claudia Webbe could face jail after harassment conviction

Claudia Webbe

MP Claudia Webbe could face jail after harassment conviction

The MP Claudia Webbe is facing a potential jail sentence and demands to stand down from her seat after being found guilty of a campaign of harassment including threatening an acid attack.

Webbe, the independent MP for Leicester East, who was elected as a Labour candidate in 2019 but had the party whip withdrawn, was accused of harassing Michelle Merritt, a friend of her partner, with threatening phone calls. The trial was told she had called Merritt a slag, threatened to “use acid” and said she would distribute naked pictures of Merritt to her family.

Following the guilty verdict and a warning from the judge that she could face a prison sentence, Labour called for Webbe to quit her seat, which would trigger a byelection. Webbe protested her innocence and made clear that she planned to continue as an MP.

“While I’m preparing for the appeal I want to assure the people of Leicester East that I will continue to stand up for them in parliament, fighting on their behalf,” she said.

Webbe, a close ally of Jeremy Corbyn, was elected as Labour MP for Leicester East with a majority of 6,019 but had the whip withdrawn last year after being charged.

She denied harassment between 1 September 2018 and 26 April 2020 but after a two-day trial chief district judge Paul Goldspring found her guilty.

“I find she was jealous of the relationship between Lester [Thomas, her partner] and Michelle. Whatever the nature of that relationship, she certainly thought it was something she was not happy with,” he said. “I found Ms Webbe’s evidence to be vague, inconsistent and at times to be illogical. It was shaped around the overwhelming evidence against her she could not innocently answer, but ultimately I found it to be untruthful.”

He said her conduct towards Merritt was “oppressive and was designed to be so”. “In particular threatening to send intimate photographs to her family and to ‘use acid’ are in my view the best evidence of the intent.”

He adjourned sentencing to 4 November and released Webbe, 56, on unconditional bail but warned she could face prison.

A Labour spokesperson said: “The Labour party strongly condemns Claudia Webbe’s actions and she should now resign.”

During the trial Paul Hynes QC, defending, read out a string of character references from figures including Corbyn, the former shadow chancellor John McDonnell and the former shadow home secretary Diane Abbott.

Webbe is a former chair of Operation Trident, which was set up in response to shootings disproportionately affecting black people in London. She was a councillor in Islington between 2010 and 2018 and was a member of Labour’s national executive committee.

She entered the House of Commons in December 2019, winning the seat formerly held by Keith Vaz, the former Labour minister who retired from parliament in the wake of a scandal involving cocaine and sex workers. Last month an official report found Vaz had engaged in “sustained and unpleasant bullying” towards a member of parliamentary staff.

If Webbe receives a custodial sentence of less than a year and her appeal fails, a recall petition would be triggered in her constituency. To prompt a byelection, 10% of the electorate within the constituency would need to sign the petition.

Vaz told the Guardian last month that he would not stand again as a Labour candidate in Leicester East but he is known to still carry some support among the constituency party’s executive and voters.

Westminster magistrates court heard Webbe made a string of unwanted calls to Merritt. Merritt told the court that the calls, most of which were from withheld telephone numbers, made her “worried and unnerved”. “When you’re being called and there’s no one answering it unnerves you, especially as a woman who lives alone,” she said.

After Merritt received a call on Mother’s Day in 2019, in which Webbe identified herself, she decided to contact police, telling them: “She works for the Labour party, she is in the public arena and she’s accusing me of, in her words, ‘slagging around with her boyfriend’, which I’m not. She’s threatened to throw acid over me, she knows where I live, she’s going to send pictures of me and him to my daughters.”

Police officers spoke to Webbe and Merritt and requested that contact should cease, the court heard. But on 25 April last year Merritt received two calls, both eight seconds long and from the same number. Merritt told the court: “I just hung up very quickly. I didn’t want to speak to her.

“[Having received those two calls] I had to somehow prove that she was calling me because until that date all the calls had been no caller ID and the first threat call wasn’t recorded … so I called back the number that was on my phone.”

In the recording, played to the court, Webbe answered the phone and shouted at Merritt: “Why are you still butting in and getting with Lester? Why, why? He’s not your friend, he’s with me and I don’t want you to be in touch with me, I don’t want you to be in touch with him.”

Webbe screamed “get out of my relationship” 11 times, according to the recording. She also said: “I’ve seen all of your posts, I’ve seen all of your naked pictures, I’ve seen all of your relationship with Lester. Otherwise I will tell all of your family and I will show them all of your pictures.”

Giving evidence last month, Webbe, from Islington, denied harassment, claiming she had made “courtesy calls” to warn Merritt not to breach coronavirus rules by meeting Thomas.

Asked whether she had threatened Merritt, Webbe told the court: “I’ve spent my lifetime campaigning for the rights of women, challenging this kind of behaviour. This is not something that’s in my character and it’s not something I would ever do.”

After the verdict, Webbe said she was “deeply shocked”. “I am innocent and will appeal this verdict. As I said in court and repeat now, I have never threatened violence nor have I ever harassed anyone,” she said.

Her lawyer, Raj Chada, added: “We will be appealing this unjust verdict. The recording of the call Ms Webbe made has been taken out of context. We are sure that Ms Webbe will be vindicated at an appeal.”

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EFCC arraigns forex broker for alleged N2b investment scam in Uyo

The Enugu Zonal Directorate of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC on Friday, July 19, 2024 arraigned one Rufus John Isip, a self-acclaimed forex broker before Justice C. S. Onah of the Federal High Court sitting in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State.

Isip was arraigned alongside his company, ITM-IT Resources Limited on an eight-count charge bordering on fraudulent conversion, money laundering and obtaining by false pretence to the tune of N2, 022, 081, 172 (Two Billion, Twenty-two Million, Eighty-one Thousand, One Hundred and Seventy-two Naira).

Count one of the charge reads: “That you, Rufus John Isip while being the Director of ITM-IT Resources Limited and ITM-IT Resources Limited sometime in December 2020 and May 2021 in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, within the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court of Nigeria, with intent to defraud, obtained the sum of (431, 331, 172. 00) Four Hundred and Thirty-one Million, Three Hundred and Thirty-one Thousand, One Hundred and Seventy-two kobo from one Michael Okon, the Director of N-Rex Resources Limited under the false pretence that it is an investment in Vandera, an online investment platform, on his behalf, which pretence you knew to be false and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 1 (1) (a) of the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Fraud Related Offences Act, 2006 and punishable under Section 1 (3) of the same Act”.

Count eight of the charge reads: “That you, Rufus John Isip while being the Director of ITM-IT Resources Limited and ITM-IT Resources Limited sometime between December 2020 and May 2021 in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, within the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court of Nigeria, converted the total sum of (N730, 870, 000. 00) Seven Hundred and Thirty Million, Eight Hundred and Seventy Thousand Naira to crypto currency (Bitcoin) and transferred same into your Binance Wallet knowing that the said money formed part of your unlawful act and you thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 15 (2) (d) of the Money Laundering (Prevention and Prohibition) Act, 2011 and punishable under Section 15 (3) (4) of the same Act”.

He pleaded not guilty when the charges were read to him.

In view of his plea, Khamis Mahmud, counsel to the EFCC prayed the court to remand him in EFCC custody on the grounds that “we are still investigating him on other cases”.

The defence counsel, Samson Ewuje however, did not pose any objection.
Justice Onah adjourned the matter to October 14, 2024 for trial and the defendant was remanded at the Uyo Zonal Directorate of the EFCC.

Isip was arrested based on a petition from one Michael George, alleging that he lured him to invest in his online trading platform called Vandora.io. According to the petitioner, the defendant told him that it was more profitable to trade on his platform with a minimum trading capital of $100, 000. 00 (One Hundred Thousand Dollars) and that he would earn more profit if he involved more investors.

The petitioner thereafter invested, reached out to other investors and companies who also invested in the defendant’s phony online trading platform and after 60 days (as agreed) for the investors to start earning their profits, the defendant disappeared into thin air.

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EFCC presents more witness against Fayose in alleged N6.9bn fraud trial

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, on Friday, July 19, 2024, presented its 14th prosecution witness, PW14, Sahibu Salisu, a former Director of Administration and Finance, Office of the National Security Adviser, NSA, in the trial of alleged N6.9bn fraud involving a former governor of Ekiti State, Ayodele Fayose, and his company, Spotless Investment Limited, before Justice Chukujekwu Aneke of the Federal High Court sitting in Ikoyi, Lagos.

The Lagos Zonal Command of the EFCC had, on Tuesday, July 2, 2019, re-arraigned Fayose and Spotless Investment Limited on an 11-count charge bordering on money laundering and stealing to the tune of N6.9bn ( Six Billion Nine Hundred Naira).

The defendants had first been arraigned on October 22, 2018 before Justice Mojisola Olatoregun.

At the resumed sitting on Friday, Salisu told the court how he paid the sum of N200m and another N2billion to a firm, Sylvan MacNamara, for security purposes on the instruction of a former National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd).

Led in evidence by the prosecution counsel, Rotimi Jacobs, SAN, the PW14 , who disclosed that he served as the Director of Administration and Finance between 2011 and 2015, explained the process of payment, saying, “ Once the NSA gave approval for payment, we processed it accordingly. The payments we made were mainly for operational activities.”

When asked to state the roles of the NSA Office , he said: “The roles of the NSA Office are purely about the security of the entire country. And any money expended on security was expected to be retired.”

When shown a document tagged Exhibit S, which was the payment voucher raised for the fund, he said: “It is the payment mandate raised by me as the Director of Administration and Finance on the NSA’s instruction. The first figure was N200 million in favour of Sylvan McNamara and it was paid to the company’s Diamond Bank account. It was the NSA who gave me the account details.”

He said though the NSA did not tell him the purpose for which it was meant, the memo raised and the mandate payment showed it was for physical security infrastructure. “All the payments made from the Office of NSA were supposed to be for security activities and security structures,” he said.

When asked who signed the payment mandate, he said: “I will sign my own part as signatory B. “Thereafter, I would take it to the NSA for final signature, which was approval. Then, I would take the mandate to the Central Bank of Nigeria for payment.”

Giving further testimony on the exhibit S, he said the former NSA and him appended their signatures on it. According to him, the payment was made and there should be retirement, after the purpose for which money was paid for had been completed. He, however, stated that “ Up till I left the office, I could not say whether or not the money was retired.”

When asked about the exhibit S1, which was payment to Sylvan McNamara to the tune of N2 billion dated June 13, 2014, he said: “We paid the amount of N2 billion to Sylvan McNamara on the instruction of the NSA. I was not a signatory to this account, so I am not in a position to know whether it was retired after payment. The NSA and former Permanent Secretary, Mr. Ibrahim Mahe, would be able to know whether it was retired or not”.

Salisu, under cross-examination by the counsel to the first defendant, Ola Olanipekun, SAN, testified that all payments made by the NSA office were made through the bank and they had to raise the mandate before it was done.

When asked if the former NSA told him that the N200m and N2bn were for security purposes, he said: “No. The NSA never informed me that the money was for security purposes and the NSA never complained about this payment.”

During cross-examination by the counsel to the second defendant, Olalekan Ojo, SAN, Salisu testified that he was familiar with financial regulations, adding that “In relation to retirement, once money is given to a recipient, you are supposed to bring the receipt of what you have been asked to supply with a memo attached to it. That is the retirement of such a fund-the financial regulations only apply to public servants.”
According to him, the schedules of his duties did not extend to security matters.

When asked if he knew what made the former NSA to first approve the payment of N200million and subsequently N2 billion for Sylvan McNamara, he said: “As I said earlier, all payments in the office of the NSA are for security purposes”. Also, when asked if he made a statement to the EFCC when he was invited during investigation, he said, “Yes”.

Thereafter, Ojo tendered the statement of the witness and was admitted by the court as exhibit A19. The witness also confirmed to the court that no one ever queried the instructions of the NSA.

Counsel to the first defendant, Ola Olanipekun, SAN, made an application before the court, seeking the permission of the court to allow his client travel abroad on health grounds. There was no objection from the prosecution counsel.

In his ruling, Justice Aneke granted Olanipekun’s request to enable his client travel abroad for medical check.

The case was adjourned to October 18, 2024 for continuation of trial.

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NSUK 300-Level student killed in foiled robbery attempt in Akwanga

A 300-level student of Nasarawa State University, Keffi (NSUK), Mustapha Osama, was reportedly killed in a foiled robbery attempt in Akwanga Local Government Area of Nasarawa State.

The incident occurred on Friday night around 8 PM along the Gudi-Akwanga road, according to sources.

Osama, who has been buried in Doma on Saturday morning according to Islamic rites, was said to have been hit by a bullet fired by the gunmen.

A family source confirmed that the deceased was driving when he was struck by the bullet.

The robbery attempt was thwarted by operatives of the Nigeria Police who responded immediately to a distress call, according to the state’s Police Public Relations Officer, DSP Ramhan Nansel.

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