March 29, 2014 – Nigerian Businessman Osita Okoro Arrested By Spanish Police For Driving An Expensive Car
When Dr. Osita Okoro from Egbu Owerri in Owerri North Local Government Area of Imo State left the shores of Nigeria in the late 1990s in search of greener pastures, he had a ray hope of achieving great success.
He first found himself in a neighbouring African country of Gabon, where he spent about a year before moving over to Cameroon, another neighbouring country. After about 18 months in Cameroon without the desired success, he felt that Europe was the destination. And so, in 2000, he found himself in Spain, where his dreams finally came to reality.
Before he moved over to the European country of Spain, he was erroneously made to believe that the country was a land flowing with milk and honey, but when he found himself there, he realized how wrong that impression was. However, undaunted and determined to succeed, he soon engaged himself in a worthwhile business, working his fingers to the bone and that eventually paid off. His hard work saw him realized his dream. He became rich and decided to invest in the economy that assisted him to conquer poverty. He could have come back to his fatherland to invest and possibly raise a family, but he decided to do all of those over there in Spain, the city of Madrid to be precise.
But, little did he know that his decision to invest and continue doing business in Spain would turn out to be an albatross to him. He got married first to a Spanish woman who had a nine-year-old son for him before they went their separate ways. He later married a Georgian woman, who currently lives with him, having born two children for him. With a flourishing business and a happy home, he felt that life was good and interesting. Everything seemed to be working out well for the 45-year-old Owerri-born Okoro, until he decided to venture into tourism business. Although, he had earlier been defrauded when he wanted to buy a restaurant in Valencia, Spain, he remained undeterred. So, when the opportunity to own a four-star hotel in Madrid came to him, he maximized the opportunity and bought it over.
That singular decision to buy the four-star hotel in Madrid was the genesis of all his travails in the hands of the Spanish police, including his 11 months and two weeks detention without any established crime against him. The latest in the series of the calculated onslaught to frustrate him and possibly deny him access to his property is an attempt by the Spanish Police in collaboration with the Spanish Consulate in Nigeria to deny him entry back to Spain, having travelled to Nigeria to see his sick mother.
Narrating how his once memorable and fulfilling sojourn in Madrid, Spain, suddenly turned sour and nightmarish, he said: “I have a four star hotel in Spain. When I was buying the hotel, I had problem with the police around the area I bought the hotel. They wanted to stop the operation, claiming that I had not paid the agent who introduced me to the sellers. But the notary called the agent and the police into his office and demanded to know who their client was. When the man who posed as the agent selling the hotel came there, he said that his client was not there and that angered the notary, who walked them away from his office, saying that he was binding an agreement between myself, the owner of Osinais Ventures, Spain and the former owners of the Hotel Centrale. He then introduced us to them telling them that I am the person buying and they were the people selling and that since they didn’t know me, he would go ahead to bind the agreement between the seller and the buyer, which he did. And that happened because the police were asking me to pay some money which they called protection fee before I could buy the hotel.”
If he thought he had won the war with the police by buying the hotel, he lied because the police soon started releasing their arsenals against him. “So, after I bought the hotel, I invited the police and offered them something for their holidays; it wasn’t like I was bribing them. But, after that, I began to have more problems with the police. They asked me to tell them how much I would be paying as protection fee every month but I objected to that because it is only members of a group called friends of the police, made up of only whites that pay such money. They didn’t want me to be a member because I am black; rather they wanted my wife who is white to represent me because if they accepted me into the association, I would be the only black man there. They promised to admit me into the association at a future date but I refused. I told them that if they wanted my wife to be a member, she should pay them. My wife also refused to be a member because the amount they demanded was almost her monthly salary. They were asking for over 900 Euros. That was my last encounter with the police,” he narrated.
Dr Okoro’s enemies were Catholic. He was receiving attacks from all fronts. The normal legitimate transaction that took place in his hotel was twisted and used against him by a bank. Narrating how the bank director got involved in the ‘pull him down campaign,’ he said: “Normal hotel operation in Spain is that each time a client comes to lodge in your hotel, you must send the person’s identity card or passport copy to the police who would in turn investigate the person to know if there is any criminal record about the person. On April 13, 2011; the Front Desk Manager of my hotel accepted a client for a week.
He also sent his details to the police. So, when the client paid his bill which was 4,820 Euros through La Cayasha bank on April 13, 2011, the bank refused to credit the money into our account. When I went to the bank to know why the money was not credited, the director told me she suspected fraud because the card was slotted into the credit card machine many times before the transaction was made. I went back to the hotel to tell the manager what the bank manager said, he told me that the credit card could be slotted into the machines many times and that it is either the machine accepts the transaction or it rejects it. If it accepts, it would issue a ticket where the customer signs and if it rejects, it would equally indicate so.
But in this case, it was insufficient service on the machine that made them to slot it continually until there was service and transaction was eventually made and the client signed on the receipt that the machine issued. My lawyer then called the Visa Company, which confirmed that it had no problem with us. The Visa Company cleared us and directed us to go back to the bank and get our money but advised that if we encountered such problems in future, we shouldn’t slot the card many times but call them to assist us.
“When I went back to the bank to tell the director what the visa company said, she told me that she would not pay me because I sacked her uncle. I told her that I was going to make a report against the bank and she also threatened that she was going to make a report against my investment company and I encouraged her to do that, thinking that if she does, the police would investigate the matter properly and know the truth. After two weeks, I went to the police station in Yeskas in Tonado, Spain and asked them if there was any report against me, they confirmed that the bank lodged a report against me but it was nothing serious and that they were studying it. They promised to call me if need be and to direct the bank to credit my account if otherwise.”
Police step in
Having refused to pay monthly protection fee of 900 Euros, the police took their first step aimed at making life uncomfortable for him.
He said: “Within the same April, I was driving when I noticed that a police vehicle with two men in mufti were trailing me. They stopped and demanded to know where I stole the car from and I told them that it was a birthday present to me from my wife. They asked if I knew that the car was worth about 46,000 Euros and I said yes. They asked, as a black man, how I managed to have all the cars that l have in Spain and still live large.
I felt insulted but kept quiet. One of them told me there was a case against me in their station but if I could give him the car, he would close the case and if I refused, I would run into trouble. He then asked how many tons of cocaine I have sold. I told him that I don’t sell cocaine and at that point, he said I was under arrest. I was arrested and detained but around 2am the following morning, they brought me out and took me to Moritalas, a police station that has scientific equipment. They took my saliva and hair from my head by force and ran a test to check my crime record all over the world. All the countries of the world that came out showed negative, meaning that I don’t have any criminal record.
“When they got to Nigeria, they paused and asked me why I didn’t have any crime record. I told them I don’t have a crime record because I am not a criminal. They returned me to the station where I was detained earlier and asked me to go but I refused, insisting that I must be told why I should be detained from 4:00pm the previous day to 5:00am the next day. They called my lawyer and urged him to prevail on me to leave the station.
When my lawyer came, I explained all that happened and what I went through and he was not impressed. He asked if I wanted to make a report against the officer and I said yes. But the policeman refused that I should make a report against him in his own station. I then demanded to go to the court to make a report against the entire station. When the Divisional Police Officer, (the Commissariat) came down, he insisted that I should make a report against the man who arrested me and not against the station. He also insisted I should do it in the station and I did.”
Police change strategy
For having the audacity to make a report against a white policeman, they concocted more imaginary issues against him just to pin him down. He said: “After I had written the report against the officer, they checked information about me and found out that I have an outstanding case with La Cayasha bank and they used it against me. So, on June 30, 2011, I was in my house with my wife, children and a friend when about 20 policemen stormed my residence and whisked me away.
Before taking me away, they thoroughly beat me. I almost suffocated. When they saw I was giving up, they stopped beating me and brought me into my house and sat me on the ground in the presence of my family. My wife and children were crying. They searched the whole house. Neighbours intervened and demanded to take my children but they refused. They asked my wife to convince the neighbours that everything was all right if she wanted them to leave on time as they had only come to do one or two things before leaving.
She believed them but eventually, they handcuffed me and took me to my hotel. When we got there, they told customers that I was a criminal who specialized in stealing credit cards of my clients. When I wanted to talk, they stopped me and sat me on the floor, while they searched the whole hotel. Eventually, they had nothing to implicate me both from my house and hotel. They then took me to court. In the court, I demanded to know why I was brought there since nobody had told me my offence.
The judge told me I was accused of forging government properties and credit cards. He asked if I could remember how I checked in a client, James Montero, into my hotel on April 13, 2011, but I told him I don’t check in clients in my hotel, rather the receptionists do. He again asked if I know anything about the incident and I said yes. I told him what transpired between me and the bank.
He asked the public prosecutor (the Physicale) if he had anything to say and he said no but that they had given an order to listen to my telephone conversation and that computers were taken away from my house and office and that there might be incriminating things in them. Then, the prosecutor got up and said he would want me remanded in the custody until the police investigations were over. They gave me a paper to sign and I did and I was detained.”
11 months detention
“While in detention, I was made to understand that the result of the telephone conversations was out and the group of criminal whom they arrested and alleged that they were associating with me in the credit card business never knew me before. They never had my telephone number neither have they ever called me on phone. In prison, I began to write to the Amnesty International, the European Union and the Nigerian Embassy in Spain telling them what I was going through.
I told them I am the president of Nigerians for good governance in the whole Europe, not just in Madrid and that I should live an exemplary life for others to emulate. So, they began to ask the court what I did and they came up with the first allegation that they arrested two Romanian girls who said I lived with them for two months in their house. They said in the house of these girls, they saw credit card making machines and that was why they arrested me. When I heard this, I insisted that I needed to see the girls so that they could testify before me but they said I shouldn’t bother about that because they had struck it out. I insisted that the allegation be thrashed out once and for all.
“Again, they alleged that somebody called on phone and said I committed fraud. I asked about the caller and they said it was anonymous caller. But I made them understand that Spain has the technology to trace anonymous callers. I insisted that I needed to see the caller because actually, I was the one to complain of having been defrauded. I bought a restaurant in Valencia in Spain and they took 24,000 Euros from me and up till today, they have not refunded my money to me and I took the matter to court but because I am not from the country nobody heard of the case up till today. So, I insisted that I am the victim of fraud.”
Dr Okoro alleged that the police also instigated his manager to organise a robbery in his hotel just to run him out of business. The manager, according to him, actually carried out the robbery and when his wife reported to the police, they refused to give her the police report, so that he could not get any compensation from the insurance company.
He said: “My hotel manager organised a robbery in my hotel like the police advised him on July 27, 2011, after my arrest on June 30, 2011. The chief of investigation of that police station that arrested me advised them to sell pictures and other valuables in the hotel for their salary, which they did. When my wife made a report about the robbery, the police refused to give her a copy of her report, so that the insurance company would not pay.
But then, she went to the insurance company, Alliance insurance, and reported that robbery had taken place in the hotel. They came and saw everything and said they needed a police report. They valued what was stolen from the hotel at 300, 000 to 600, 000 Euros but could only pay if and when the police report is presented. Police refused to give her the report. But instead of arresting Jesus, the hotel manager, they asked him to testify against me in court, so they could have a reason for having arrested me.
He appeared in court on January 30, 2012, and testified that I brought two black men and ordered him to check them into the hotel. He refused to tell them that he faxed the details of the people to the police, who never came to investigate the clients. And secondly, there is a camera system that would show everything that happened in that hotel but the police have refused to bring it out up till today because they knew they were telling lies.
“Now, when I denied ever bringing any Blackman and insisted that they should produce the camera system, they now wrote me a letter that I should go and discuss with the police. I wrote back to the judge telling him that I didn’t have any business with the police. I expected him to order them to release me alongside all my properties, since he was the one who ordered them to arrest me. I equally wrote a petition to the king of Spain but it has not been answered till today. What I keep hearing is that they don’t want to disgrace the police and that they could settle out of court with me.
But my question is: how can you settle out of court with me when I am dying and my family is dying? At the end of the day, I demanded to know what my offence is; I demanded to know the result of their investigation so far. They told me it was investigation for one year before they arrested me but they kept me in detention for 11 months and two weeks.”
Detention without reason
Almost two years after he was released from the police detention, he is yet to be told why he was detained for almost one year. He is asking: “What did I do? They have released me for almost two years now – a year and eight months and even the computers they took from my house exonerated me from any credit card scam, same with the ones from my hotel. So, why did they arrest me? They also accused me of money laundering, which I equally defended. I had my company here in Nigeria before travelling to Spain.
I equally ran the company in Cameroon and Gabon and since I got to Spain, I have been engaged in legitimate businesses buying and selling. I have been travelling from Spain to other African countries for export business. I even went to Dubai to buy wristwatches for sale. I have provided all these proofs to the police and they still will not allow me to be. They have refused to tell me what my offence is and they have also refused to allow me live my normal life.”
Freedom at last
After accusations and counter accusation without any thread of evidence, Dr Okoro was released from detention on May 4, 2013, after 11 excruciating months and two weeks.
“They released me on 6000-euro bail. I had to make an appeal because my mother was ill; she had stroke. When I brought the case of my mother’s sickness, they gave me permission to travel for two weeks, running from January 21 to February 7, 2014,” he said.
Encounter in Nigeria
With the two permission granted Dr Okoro by the court to visit Nigeria and see his sick mother, he landed in his fatherland. But, before February 7, when he is expected back in Spain, be became sick. “I wrote to them with the doctor’s report. The court accepted my excuse and said I could come back on February 14. On the February14, I went to Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos to board a flight to back to Spain not knowing that they had listed my name with the instruction that I should be delayed or even prevented from going back to Spain. I presented my documents because I came back with the authority to return to Spain. It is written in English and in French languages.,” he stated.
Position of the case
Speaking on the position of the case so far, he said: “The position is that they have tried to close the case without me. So, they are preventing me from coming back to Spain so that they can take a decision and give me, maybe, three days to appeal when they know that I am not there to appeal. I went to the airport to board a flight on February 14; they checked me and had already given me a boarding pass when they suddenly called me back to say they needed the old resident permit that expired in 2005. I told them that I didn’t have it because the police took it from me and gave me a temporary paper, saying that when I bring back the temporary paper they would give me a card. I asked them to confirm from the Spanish authority. They went in, did what they did and gave me a paper directing me to the Spanish embassy in Nigeria to confirm that the documents I have are real. Even my passport has a Spanish stamp indicating that I left the airport of Spain on January 21.”
Drama at Spanish Consulate in Nigeria
“So, on Monday, February 17, I went to the Consulate office of Spain and met with Juan Pablo Cerraljero who happens to be a worker there. He refused to give me a letter, saying he had seen the documents before my coming to the office. He asked me how I got to Spain and I explained to him that I got to Spain with a business visa. I told him I didn’t obtain the business visa from Nigeria but from Cameroon because I equally operated from Cameroon. He then asked me to wait and after waiting for like four hours, he came out and demanded my name and phone numbers, with a promise that he would call me later for confirmation.
I gave him my name and left. On Wednesday, February 19, I called him and he told me that it takes time and advised me to go with another airline. I protested against that and asked him who will pay the bill. I told him that all I needed was for him to put my resident card number in his system and see that I have resident but he refused. I also tried to talk with the Consular officer, who is a woman but she told me that she was not going to attend to me again,” he said.
What the Nigeria embassy did?
As all these were happening, one would want to know what the Nigeria embassy in Spain as well as Amnesty International did, when he cried out to them.
This is what he said: “The embassy did all it could but the problem still continued.
Amnesty International is interested in not letting this case escalate to cause life and property of innocent citizens. They quite understood that harm has been done to me and as a leader, they are asking me to bear it and sacrifice myself, so that others do not go in. They want to avoid a repeat of what happened in London sometimes ago where Nigerians got angry and showed it by beheading a soldier. They are trying to see that I don’t make it something that would cause problem. And ever since then, I have tried my best so that it doesn’t affect the life and property of innocent people.”
Cry for justice
How does Okoro want the matter to be resolved? He said: “I am asking for justice. If I have committed a crime, they should name the crime, prove it and punish me, if the one they have given to me so far is not enough. But, if I have not done anything, why would they not let go and say sorry and let me find a place in my heart to forgive, if I have to and replace all they have damaged around me. My name has been soiled; most people who met me in the prison will always identify me as somebody they met in the prison when I am a material for prison.”
All efforts to speak to any official of the Spanish Consulate in Nigeria proved abortive as calls put through to 01-2805488 and 01-4617618 were not answered. A voice from a machine encoded in Spanish language reverberated repeatedly from the other end.