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Aug 31, 2016

SPECIAL REPORT: Nigeria risks losing N218billion Abacha loot as Justice Minister Malami, US-based attorney, battle

Former Head of State, Sani Abacha

One of the issues believed to have been discussed by President Muhammadu Buhari and the visiting U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, during a closed-door meeting last Tuesday was the return of millions of dollars of Nigeria’s money looted by late military dictator, Sani Abacha.
However, Nigeria stands the risk of forfeiting a hefty N218.3 billion ($550 million) already recovered from Mr Abacha’s estate if a suit filed by an American-based Nigerian lawyer against the Nigerian government in a United States federal court is not quickly resolved.
Texas-based attorney, Godson Nnaka, who was contracted by the Nigerian government in 2004 to help find and recover funds siphoned by Mr Abacha and his associates, has asked the court to appoint him a private attorney general of the fund as well as award him 40 percent of the recovered fund. He claimed he made the request in line with United States law.
Mr. Nnaka has also accused the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, of demanding kickback of as much as 70 percent of his fees and acting in a vindictive manner after he turned down his demand. Mr. Malami strongly denied the allegations.
The Letter of Instruction
In 2004, Mr. Nnaka approached the Olusegun Obasanjo administration with a proposal to help find and recover millions of dollars stolen by Mr Abacha. Having convinced the government that he could trace and recover the looted funds, the Attorney-General of the Federation at the time, Akinlolu Olujimi, in a November 25, 2004 letter, instructed Mr Nnaka “to proceed in a professional manner to recover the funds on behalf of the country.”
“Government will only pay for your professional services a percentage as may be agreed for any sum actually recovered,” the letter added.
In a letter to President Muhammadu Buhari in August 2015, Mr Nnaka said he carried out the task. He claimed he hired a group of lawyer, financial consultants, and academics across the world to help identify and trace the funds.
He also said he travelled to France, England, Switzerland, Angola, Turkey, and Austria, to meet with government officials, law enforcement agents and financial experts with the aim of finding and securing the funds.
Mr. Nnaka further claimed in that 2014, after a district court ruling forfeiting the money to the United States government, he singlehandedly filed an appeal when he entered appearance to “protect the interest of Nigeria” when no one did. According to him the court would have awarded the money to the United States if no one hand entered appearance on behalf of Nigeria within 35 days.
He said unfortunately all his efforts to secure the fund for the country were antagonised by the former Attorney General of the Federation, Mohammed Adoke, and his successor Mr Malami.
Mr. Adoke’s cold shoulder
Mr. Nnaka explained that he approached Mr Adoke and explained the need for the Nigerian government to act quickly or stand the risk of forfeiting the funds to the United States. He said he needed Mr. Adoke to sign a mandatory verification required by law for him to perfect the claim filed in court to secure the recovered loot.
But on May 26, 2014, Mr Adoke wrote the United States Department of Justice (DOJ), saying the Nigerian government did not authorise Mr Nnaka and three other persons to represent it in the asset forfeiture case.
Mr. Nnaka said Mr. Adoke wrote the DOJ despite receiving a letter from Mr. Olujimi on May 15, 2014 confirming that he was indeed hired by the Nigerian government to help find and recover the loot.
Subsequent to the refusal of Mr. Adoke to sign the mandatory verification and his letter to the DOJ, the court ruled that the fund should be forfeited to the United States government.
Mr. Nnaka said he immediately filed an appeal to preserve the interest of Nigeria in the case and to stop the money from being forfeited to the US government.
Mr. Nnaka alleged that Mr. Adoke, and later Mr Malami, wanted him out of the case because he refused to accede to their fraudulent demands. He claimed they planned to enrich themselves from the recovered fund.
“Mr Adoke intended to corruptly chase plaintiff away from the recovery of the looted funds so that Mr. Adoke would recover and re-loot the funds for himself by himself or through proxies and for his self-enrichment and/or for his associates in crime,” he wrote in a petition to a federal court in the U.S.
“Malami asked me for 70 percent of my fee”
In April, frustrated for being repeatedly stonewalled by the Nigerian government, the US-based attorney through his lawyer, Benneth Amadi, filed a civil suit against the Nigerian government and Mr Malami at a US district court in Washington DC.
In the complaint and petition accompanying the suit, he requested to be appointed a private attorney general of the recovered funds. Mr Nnaka also claimed that Mr, Malami, just like Mr Adoke before him, is “convincingly” working with the Abacha family with the intention of criminally diverting the funds for his enrichment and those of his unnamed associates.
He said after the 2015 presidential election, he approached Mr. Malami through his representatives with relevant documents and personally appealed to him to undo the wrong perpetrated against him by his predecessor.
He claimed that Mr Malami initially appeared to be working in the interest of the country and seemed genuinely interested in the repatriation of the funds. He said the AGF promised to sign the necessary papers setting aside the letter written by Mr. Adoke as well as promising to sign the mandatory verification letter that would reinstate him as the government’s attorney.
He said trouble started when Mr Malami started making “shocking” demands.
“Mr Malami started making shocking proposals and demands before he would sign the documents. Mr Malami proposed that the plaintiff should agree to part with and to pay a significant portion of his fees in the aforesaid matter to him as a condition for Malami to sign and deliver the necessary documents for the verification and the reactivation of the mandate letters to the plaintiff,” the petition read.
The petitioner further stated that he would prove in court that Mr Malami, who he claimed was a former lawyer to the Abacha family, was working in cohort with the Abachas, Abubakar Bagudu, who was Mr Abacha’s bagman, to divert the fund for himself.
Mr Bagudu is a governor of the Nigeria’s North-West state of Kebbi.
In a telephone interview with PREMIUM TIMES, Benneth Amadi, Mr Nnaka’s lawyer, said after it became clear to Mr Malami that his client was not ready to share his fees with him, he started acting in a “vindictive manner.”
“Mr Malami indeed asked my client for 70 percent of his fees. We would prove it in court. Of course I don’t expect him to admit to you that he did but we have evidence to prove it in court,” he said.
After the breakdown of the discussion between Messrs Nnaka and Malami, the AGF then appointed another attorney to represent Nigeria in the case.
Documents seen by PREMIUM TIMES shows that in May, a Los Angeles based lawyer, Anthony Egbase, notified the U.S. District Court that the Nigerian government had authorised him to appear in court as its attorney in the case.
Mr. Amadi said by the appointment of Mr Egbase, Mr. Malami may have gotten what he was not able to get from his client, Mr Nnaka. He claimed the new attorney was yet to file anything in relation to the case since he was appointed by Mr. Malami.
On why his client was asking for a fee as steep as 40 percent of the recovered fund, Mr Amadi said it was the standard practice in the United States. He however added that Mr. Nnaka was ready to negotiate for a lower fee if the federal government was ready to play ball.
“Here in the US there is what is called the contingency fee arrangement that an attorney and his client may enter into. That was the agreement he entered into with Nigeria at the time and the contingency fee is is normally 40 percent though they may negotiate and reach an agreement which may be less than the 40 percent.
“When you are negotiating someone does not negotiate against themselves. Here you are required to make your offer but how much has Nigeria offered? They have offered zero as if the whole thing is a joke.”
When contacted, Mr Malami said Mr Nnaka was “incompetent” and a “fraudster” who couldn’t recover a kobo of the stolen wealth for 14 years. He said Mr Nnaka was not licensed to practice law in the United States like he claimed.
“If he claimed he has recovered the money let him show you where the money is? Which federal government account was it designated to. As far as I am concerned I know he is not licenced as a lawyer to practice in the US. So there was a problem of misrepresentation on his part when he approached me. He didn’t disclose that,” Mr Malami said in a telephone interview with PREMIUM TIMES.
“He claimed to have been retained by AGF Olujimi over 14 years ago and as of this moment he has not succeeded in recovering a kobo for the federal government. For 14 years because he doesn’t have the competence and capacity to make any recovery he could not recover a kobo.”
He said that the letter of instruction given to Mr. Nnaka by Mr Olujimi required him to give the government feedback on his progress after which he would be given further directives on how to proceed but Mr Nnaka failed to do so because he had nothing to report.
“And in fact, even the letter of instruction he claimed to have as claimed to have emanated from Olujimi, it was provisional letter given to him to go and trace the fund and report back to the office of the Attorney general for proper instruction.
“Because of his incompetence he could not trace any fund much more come back with a formal letter. So if truly he has been engaged by the office of the attorney general and he has recovered the funds why is he now seeking further instruction.”
He added that Mr Nnaka threatened to embarrass President Buhari during one of his official visits to the United States. Mr Malami said that was the point he decided to cut further discussions with the US-based attorney.
“So when I was appointed into office he approached me for such instruction. But then what annoyed me most was that he now used threat. He threatened me that if I do not give him the letter of instruction, when Mr President’s flight arrives in New York, he would embarrass the federal government. I then became annoyed because I do not naturally stand to threat. Nobody can intimidate me like a baby for procuring a letter of instruction. And on that basis I said he should do his worst. That was the genesis of the problem.”
Interestingly, just like Mr. Naka accused him of working with the Abachas to divert the fund, Mr. Malami too accused him of working for those who does not want the funds repatriated to Nigeria.
“My logical conclusion arising from the way he behaved in court by filing series of applications so as to stop and frustrate that repatriation of the money to Nigeria is that he was not working for national interest,” the justice minister said.
“Perhaps he was working with the people from whom Nigeria is trying to recover the looted money from. Because no lawyer can pursue a case for 14 years without making any meaning progress. The position of things now is he is a clear criminal. He is clearly incompetent. We are not negotiating anything with him at all if he has a case let him go to court,” he said.
Mr Amadi, however, said Mr Malami was like a drowning man who is clutching to a straw. He said it was not true that Mr Nnaka was not licensed to practice law in the United States.
“He is just talking nonsense,” Mr. Amadi said. “He is like a sinking man trying to gather some straw, which would not help him at all. The money has been frozen in different banks in different countries. The only thing stopping the money from being repatriated is this lawsuit. If the Nigeria government agree to reach a settlement with Mr Nnaka, the court will order that the funds should be unblocked and returned to Nigeria,” he said.
“The retainer he got was go and look for the money. Take the necessary step to get where the monies are. If you see them, recovere them. To recover the money, you don’t go into a bank and start collecting the money. Necessary steps have to be taken as they are being taken now.”
On Mr Malami’s claim that Mr. Nnaka is not licensed to practice law in the United States, Mr Amadi said the AGF was merely peddling falsehood. He said Mr. Nnaka’s licence to practice in the state of Maryland was revoked, but that he still has a licence to practise in Washington DC.
“In US you have different states giving lawyers licences to practice. It is not like in Nigeria where a body of benchers give licenses to lawyers to practice throughout Nigeria. Here each state gives licenses to lawyers to practice in that state and if one needs to practice in another state you will have to get license from the state. Nnaka has license to practice in some state. He has license practice in Maryland. But there was a time he had some problem.
“He gave his cases for some lawyers to handle his cases for him so the lawyers he gave the cases to could not meet up with one case and then the matter was reported and they wrote letters, then he was not around because he was looking for this money and working on this Nigerian case before he could come back they had taken decision and withdrawn his license in Maryland. Only Maryland. But he has a license to practice in Washington DC. He has an office.
“At the time he was given the retainer to look for these funds, he was fully in licence. His license was not touched. None of them. Even if he does not have license he retained lawyers to do the work, he hired investigators to be looking for where this money was. So what the attorney general said doesn’t make sense at all,” he said.

‘World class’ nickel discovered in Nigeria, govt. to sign exploration deal with Australian firm

Dr. Kayode Fayemi

A private mining syndicate has made a potentially “world class and highly unusual” Nickel discovery in Nigeria, The Australian, an Australian national newspaper is reporting.
The private mining syndicate is reportedly headed by Hugh Morgan, a mining industry veteran.
“The discovery is unusual because the nickel is found in small balls up to 3mm in diameter of a high purity in shallow soils in what could be the surface expression of a much bigger hard-rock nickel field,” the newspaper said.
“The nickel balls, rumoured to grade better than 90 per cent nickel and thought to be a world first given their widespread distribution, offer the potential for early cashflow from a simple and low-cost screening operation to fund a full assessment of the find that has exploration circles buzzing.”
Details of the discovery are sketchy, according to the newspaper, but it was rumoured to be close to Dangoma, a small farming town about 160km northeast of the Nigerian capital of Abuja.
Checks by PREMIUM TIMES showed that Dangoma is located in the North-West state of Kaduna.
When asked to comment last week, Mr Morgan reportedly said it was for the Nigerian government to make an announcement.
Kayode Fayemi, the Minister for Solid Minerals, will be among the speakers at a three-day Africa Down Under mining conference at Perth’s Pan Pacific Hotel, Australia, in September.
Mr. Fayemi is to speak first on Wednesday, September 7, and Mr Morgan will follow along with consulting geologist Louisa Lawrance. Mr Morgan is listed as speaking as a director of the private company Comet Minerals.
Olayinka Oyebode, Mr. Fayemi’s Chief Press Secretary, said he had no details of the discovery, but confirmed his principal is scheduled to be in Australia next week.
“I know there is a mining conference coming up in Australia where the Honourable Minister is supposed to make a presentation,” Mr. Oyebode told PREMIUM TIMES via phone on Monday.
“But I don’t have an advance knowledge of what he’s going to talk about but, generally speaking, he’s going to market Nigeria.”
Mr. Oyebode asked this newspaper to give him till Monday evening for Mr. Fayemi’s reaction on the nickel discovery in Kaduna.
But an official of the ministry, who asked not to be named because he was not authorised to speak on the matter, said Mr. Fayemi’s delegation would most likely sign an exploration deal with the Australian syndicate at the conference.
Nickel is primarily sold for first use as refined metal. About 65 percent of it consumed in the West is used to produce stainless steel.
The world’s largest producers of Nickel include The Philippines, Indonesia, Russia, Canada, and Australia, according to the US Geological Survey.
In August, Mr. Fayemi told Bloomberg that one of the Nigeria government’s priorities is to meet its annual steel demand of 6.8 metric tons, from a current output of less than 2.5 metric tons, produced mainly from scrap iron.
“In two to five years, we want to have started production of iron ore, lead, zinc, bitumen, nickel, coal and gold at a serious scale,” Mr. Fayemi had said.

20 killed as Saudi jets launch new airstrikes in Yemen

A picture taken on August 9, 2016 shows smoke billowing behind buildings following an airstrike carried out by Saudi Arabia in the Yemeni capital Sana’a. (By AFP)
A picture taken on August 9, 2016 shows smoke billowing behind buildings following an airstrike carried out by Saudi Arabia in the Yemeni capital Sana’a. (By AFP)
At least 20 people have lost their lives and many others sustained injuries in a number of Saudi airstrikes against residential neighborhoods across Yemen.
On Wednesday morning, Saudi military aircraft pounded al-Rawdah Village in the western-central Yemeni province of Sana’a in addition to an area close to a military academy in the capital, Sana’a, leaving four people dead and scores of others injured, Yemen’s al-Masirah television network reported.
Sixteen people, mostly women and children, also lost their lives and a number of others were wounded when Saudi warplanes pounded houses in the Sahan district of Yemen’s northwestern mountainous province of Sa’ada.
Later in the day, Saudi jets launched an aerial attack against a gas station in the northwestern city of Hajjah, located 127 kilometers (78 miles) northwest of Sana’a. There were no immediate reports of casualties and the extent of damage caused.
A Houthi Ansarullah fighter walks past cooking gas cylinders in the yard of a gas station after it was hit by a Saudi airstrike in Sa’ada, Yemen, August 27, 2016. (Photo by Reuters)
Separately, seven people were injured in an airstrike against a courthouse in Yemen’s northwestern province of Amran.
Saudi fighter jets also bombarded areas in the Nihm district of Sana’a Province as well as the Mustaba district in the northwestern Hajjah Province, though no reports of casualties were available.
The developments came a day after Saudi aircraft hit a parking lot in the Mafraq al-Shara’b district of the southwestern Yemeni province of Ta’izz, killing 16 civilians and injuring 10 others.
Yemenis look at a badly-damaged car following a Saudi airstrike against a parking lot in the Mafraq al-Shara’b district of the southwestern Yemeni province of Ta’izz, August 30, 2016.
Moreover, Yemeni soldiers, backed by fighters from Popular Committees, on Tuesday launched a barrage of rockets at two camps belonging to militiamen loyal to Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, who has resigned as Yemen’s president, in the Thaabat area and al-Wazi’iyah district of Ta’izz Province, leaving an unspecified number of pro-Riyadh gunmen dead and injured.
Saudi Arabia has pounded Yemen almost daily since March 2015. The United Nations (UN) announced on Tuesday that at least 10,000 people have been killed in the war so far.
Saudi Arabia launched the war to put Hadi, who is a Saudi ally, back in power.
The Houthi fighters and allied army units have been fighting back the Saudi invaders and their mercenaries.

Middle East worse off after US invasions: Iraqi resistance group chief

Akram al-Kabi (L), the secretary general of the Iraqi resistance movement of Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba speaks to Press TV’s Amir-Mehdi Kazemi.
Akram al-Kabi (L), the secretary general of the Iraqi resistance movement of Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba speaks to Press TV’s Amir-Mehdi Kazemi.
The head of an Iraqi resistance group says the Middle East region’s woes have worsened ever since the onset of the United States “war on terror,” Press TV reports.
Akram al-Kabi, the secretary general of the Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba (HHN), which fights militancy throughout the war-scarred Iraq, made the remarks to Press TV in an exclusive interview, parts of which were broadcast on Wednesday.
“The United States has never played a positive role since its entry into the region. Problems and conflicts worsened with the US occupation of Iraq and, before that, Afghanistan,” he said.
The invasions, undertaken in 2001 and 2003, prompted far-and-wide anti-Washington sentiments and grass-roots intolerance of foreign meddling. The chaos that ensued provided for the proliferation of militant groups fighting central governments.
The US war on Iraq has been blamed for the emergence of the Takfiri terrorist group of Daesh, which has been operating in Iraq and Syria since 2014 and has recently spread to Libya, Afghanistan, and Yemen, too.
Kabi further blasted the US-led campaign that purports to be fighting Daesh in Iraq and Syria but has stopped well short of dismantling the group.
A US warplane is seen on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, deployed in the Persian Gulf, preparing for a mission in support of the US-led campaign in Iraq and Syria, July 22, 2016.
Iraq never asked for US help in fighting Daesh, he said, accusing the US-led coalition of carrying out airstrikes near Iraq’s army bases on many occasions.
He said Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units — volunteer forces fighting militancy — have rejected any type of cooperation with the US-led coalition because of “America’s inappropriate intentions.”
The Iraqi resistance movement’s chief also said the US-led campaign had helped anti-Iraq groups such as the Baath Party, which used to tyrannize Iraqis under former dictator Saddam Hussein, find the necessary breeding ground to come out of the cold and trouble the country anew.
Daesh is believed to have been formed by Saddam loyalists and other extremist groups in Iraq.

Typhoon Lionrock kills 9 people at Japanese elderly home

Nine people have lost their lives at an elderly care home in northern Japan as a powerful typhoon ripped through the region, causing heavy flooding and damage.
Typhoon Lionrock, a powerful and erratic tropical cyclone, hit Iwate Prefecture in Japan’s northern Tohoku region, particularly the towns of Iwaizumi and Ofunato, where the storm made landfall on Tuesday evening, triggering heavy rainfall, fierce winds and huge swells.
“We are trying to confirm the identities of these bodies” found in the riverside nursing home in Iwaizum, said Iwate prefectural police Shuko Sakamoto on Wednesday.
An aerial view shows a flooded residential area from heavy rains by Typhoon Lionrock in Kuji, Iwate Prefecture, Japan, on August 31, 2016. ©Reuters
A video released by Japan’s state broadcaster NHK showed the elderly home half buried in mud and rubble with a chopper hovering over it, trying to rescue the entrapped people.
According to NHK, police discovered the bodies after rushing to the facility to rescue those trapped.
High waves triggered by Typhoon Lionrock crash on a coast of the city of Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan, on August 30, 2016. ©Reuters
As a precaution, all schools had been closed in the region and hundreds of residents evacuated. Lionrock also forced over 120 domestic flights to ground, while some Shinkansen bullet train services were also suspended.
Earlier in the month, Typhoon Mindulle forced airlines across the country to cancel a total of 387 flights, mostly to and from Tokyo’s Haneda airport.
The Tohoku region was also hit by a disastrous earthquake and a tsunami in March 2011, which left over 18,000 dead along wide swaths of the country’s northern coast. 

We were voted into office to do the impossible — APC

The All Progressives Congress on Tuesday said it was given power by Nigerians to do what is ‘impossible”.
The party, however, said it would try its best to bring the ongoing suffering of Nigerians to an end.
“Yes, we are elected to do the impossible; we will do our best. I just want to plead that people should give us more realistic expectations,” The Punch quoted APC national chairman, south, Segun Oni, as saying on Tuesday.
Mr. Oni said the Nigerian economy was already damaged by the PDP before President Buhari was voted into office, adding that the opposition party was fixated with having a perpetual grip on power.
“The economy was traumatised by a government whose only agenda was to win another round (of elections). Therefore, everything that they could put into trying to win a second round, even bastardising the economy, was done and we are all here,” Mr. Oni, a former governor of Ekiti State, said.
Mr. Oni said Nigerians should be thankful that the APC was voted into office and to turn around the dangerous path the country’s economy had descended to under the PDP government, saying it could have been worse.
“The reality on ground is that, if the previous government were (still) in power by now, Nigeria would have virtually packed up, maybe many of us would have become refugees by now.”
Mr. Oni’s comment came few days after his party’s chairman, John Oyegun, sparred with the PDP over the state of the economy.
Mr. Oyegun slammed the PDP for running commentaries about the state of the economy, saying the party had lost its right to criticise the policies of the federal government.
The PDP pushed back against the attacks, saying the APC ruined Africa’s largest economy within 15 months in office.
The PDP also played up figures about the steady growth in GDP figures and other economic indices to explain an upward mobility Nigerians enjoyed in throughout the 16 years it spent in office after taking over from successivd military governments.

Trump says he will meet Pena Nieto in Mexico

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at a rally at Xfinity Arena in Everett, Washington, August 30, 2016.  (AFP photo)
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at a rally at Xfinity Arena in Everett, Washington, August 30, 2016. (AFP photo)
US Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has said he will meet the Mexican president hours before his highly anticipated speech on immigration in Arizona.
Last Friday, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto invited both Trump and his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton to visit Mexico, according to a statement by his office provided to The Washington Post.
According to the people familiar with the discussions, Trump took up Pena Nieto’s invitation over the weekend and will meet him on Wednesday.
“I have accepted the invitation of President Enrique Pena Nieto, of Mexico, and look very much forward to meeting him tomorrow,” Trump tweeted on Tuesday.
His message came shortly after Pena Nieto’s office tweeted that “El Senor” Trump accepted the invitation and will privately meet the president.
The business mogul, who has taken a hardline stance on immigration, is scheduled to deliver a speech Wednesday night in Phoenix, in which he will clarify his position on the issue.
Trump has called Mexican illegal immigrants rapists and criminals and vowed to deport some 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the shadows in the United States.
He has also threatened to undo the North American Free Trade Agreement, a deal signed by the US, Canada and Mexico to create a trilateral trade bloc in North America.
In addition, Trump pledged to build a wall along the Southern border to prevent more Mexicans from entering the US illegally and has repeatedly promised to force Mexico to cover the cost of the construction of his proposed wall.
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto (AFP photo)
Pena Nieto and other Mexican officials have, however, dismissed the proposal as ludicrous, with the Mexican president likening Trump’s rhetoric to that of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini.
“There is no way that Mexico can pay [for] a wall like that,” Pena Nieto said in an interview with CNN in July, adding that he opposed Trump’s frequent characterization of illegal immigrants from Mexico as rapists and killers.
His proposal of the construction of a 2,000-mile wall on the US-Mexico border has been met with strong criticism both at home and abroad.
"Suggesting that we can build an endless wall along our borders and blame our challenges on immigrants, that does not just run counter to our history as the world melting pot," President Barack Obama said in May.

White House calls EU’s fine ruling on Apple unfair

White House spokesman Josh Earnest speaks during the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, DC, on August 30, 2016. (AFP photos)
White House spokesman Josh Earnest speaks during the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, DC, on August 30, 2016. (AFP photos)
The White House has voiced concern over economic consequences of the European Commission’s order for the Apple Company to pay billions in unpaid taxes, saying the move could threaten the long-sought fairness of the international tax system.
"We are concerned about a unilateral approach... that threaten to undermine progress that we have made collaboratively with the Europeans to make the international taxation system fair," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said in a press briefing on Tuesday.
Describing the move as unfair to US taxpayers, Earnest added that the administration of US President Barack Obama had repeatedly reiterated its "willingness to go and fight for" American taxpayers and American businesses overseas, which were being "treated unfairly."
The comments were made after the European Union ordered the US tech giant to pay some 13 billion euros (14.5 billion dollars) of unpaid taxes to Ireland.
Brussels accused Apple of avoiding tax payment for its business in Europe through illegal arrangements with Dublin.
Dublin has also been accused of collaboration with Apple to evade taxes. Apple and the Irish government immediately said they would appeal against the 28-nation bloc’s ruling, with the company warning it could cost European jobs.
This file photo shows a woman walking by an Apple logo during a media event in San Francisco, California.
The US Treasury Department also slammed the EU’s move, saying, "We believe that retroactive tax assessments by the Commission are unfair, contrary to well-established legal principles and call into question the tax rules of individual member states,"
The case could "threaten to undermine foreign investment, the business climate in Europe, and the important spirit of economic partnership between the US and the EU," the department added.
"Treasury is disappointed that the Commission is acting unilaterally and departing from the important progress the US, the EU, and the rest of the international community have made together to combat tax avoidance," it concluded.
The European Commission (EC) is expected to rule on the case next month. This is the biggest corporate tax avoidance investigation ever undertaken by the commission.
The EC is the executive body of the EU, responsible for implementing decisions, proposing legislation, upholding the EU treaties and managing the day-to-day business of the bloc.
A 2013 report by the US Senate confirmed that Apple has paid little to no taxes on at least $74 billion of the profit it earned by exploiting Irish and American tax laws.
Tim Cook, who became Apple’s CEO after the death of its founder Steve Jobs five years ago, has denounced the case as “political crap.”
“There is no truth behind it,” he said. “Apple pays every tax dollar we owe.”
The EU estimates that tax avoidance by multinational corporations costs member states anywhere between $50 million to $78 billion a year in lost taxes.
In addition to Apple, other American companies like Amazon and Starbucks are also suspected of tax evasion.

US meets 10,000 Syrian refugees relocation target: IOM

This photo taken on May 4, 2016 shows Syrian refugees carrying their belongings as they wait to enter the Jordanian side of the Hadalat border crossing. (AFP photos)
This photo taken on May 4, 2016 shows Syrian refugees carrying their belongings as they wait to enter the Jordanian side of the Hadalat border crossing. (AFP photos)
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) says the United States has admitted over 10,000 Syrian refugees to the country in 2016, achieving its goal one month ahead of the scheduled time.
"As of 29 August 2016, 10,172 Syrian refugees were admitted in the United States as part of the Obama administration’s promise to increase the number of Syrian refugee admissions by September 30, 2016," the IOM said in a statement on Tuesday.
The migration body further noted that another 85,000 refugees from around the world are expected to be resettled in the United State by the end of this fiscal year in September.
Last year, US President Barack Obama vowed to accept 10,000 refugees from Syria into the States.
Syrian refugee children take part in activities organized by a non-profit organization at the Saadnayel refugee camp in Lebanon on July 16, 2016.
US activists have criticized the Obama administration for acting too slowly to settle the refugees mostly because of an extensive, months-long screening process aimed at preventing anyone with links to terrorist networks, including the Daesh Takfiri group.
The US government has rejected approximately 7 percent of applications under its Syrian refugee program, while another 13 percent is being held up by "outstanding concerns," according to Leon Rodriguez, director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services.
This photo taken on December 10, 2015 shows human rights activists and people from the Muslim community displaying placards during a demonstration in New York in solidarity for Syrian and Iraqi refugees.
Obama’s plan has also come under attack by his opponents, who have been warning of the implications for national security.
On April 14, US House Speaker Paul Ryan denounced Obama’s refugee program, citing a lack of adequate screening that puts the country at risk of terrorism.
US Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has also said that “a lot” of Syrians accepted in the US are members of Daesh.
Trump said the number of refugees and immigrants is increasing in the US and if Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton “gets in, it will be massive and we won’t even have a country anymore.”
Daesh and other terror groups are wreaking havoc in Syria and aim to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, an objective also sought by Washington.
The Arab country has been gripped by foreign-sponsored militancy since March 2011. UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura has said that over 400,000 people have been killed in the conflict.

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