Cinzia Bianco, Matteo Moretti
In February 2022, the Council of the European Union (E.U.) gathered in Brussels to discuss the extension of the Coordinated Maritime Presence (CMP) concept to the North-Western Indian Ocean.
EMASOH, a French initiative, was launched in January 2020 to promote regional de-escalation in the Gulf and ensure freedom of navigation in the seas around the Strait of Hormuz.
The Council’s decision to officially embrace EMASOH, which operates in parallel to the U.S.-led International Maritime Security Construct (IMSC), is a small step in the direction of Europeans acknowledging that they won’t always be able to rely on the United States to defend their interests, even in the Gulf, long perceived in Europe as an “American lake.”
Whither a European security role in the Gulf?
This is not to say that the U.S. is leaving the Gulf or the Middle East more broadly.
Conversely, in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Europe is seeking to strengthen its energy ties with Middle Eastern suppliers to overcome its dependence on Russian oil and gas — an effort that is only likely to ramp up if the E.U. moves to ban Russian oil imports.
While North Africa, Iran, and the eastern Mediterranean are feasible long-term options, current energy infrastructures in these places is either derelict or non-existent, precluding a quick fix for Europe’s energy crisis.
This maritime space is already of strategic importance for Europe economically.
Finally, a stronger role for Europe as a security provider in the Gulf has a geopolitical rationale, too.
The E.U.’s decision to become strategically more involved in the maritime security of the North-Western Indian Ocean will have several future implications.
The CMP will enable the E.U. to share intelligence and operationalize coordination in the North-Western Indian Ocean, effectively establishing links between EMASOH and Operation Atalanta, an E.U. mission to combat piracy off the coast of Somalia.
The E.U.’s embrace of EMASOH is the ultimate green light for a new generation of ad hoc, flexible missions that can be deployed in sensitive areas for E.U. interests, offsetting the lengthy decision-making process of the E.U.’s Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP).
For now, Gulf countries are not in a position to provide maritime security around the Strait of Hormuz and the Arabian Sea on their own.
Finally, the European reference to the North-Western Indian Ocean indicates they might soon go beyond the existing operational areas of Atalanta and EMASOH.
Dr. Cinzia Bianco is a research fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, where she works on political, security, and economic developments in the Arabian Peninsula and Gulf region and relations with Europe. She is also a non-resident scholar with MEI’s Defense and Security Program and a senior analyst at Gulf State Analytics.
Matteo Moretti is a Junior Member at the International Affairs Institute (IAI) in Rome. His research interests include the EU’s foreign relations, especially with the Gulf.
US court jails Gov. Abiodun’s ex-aide, Rufai
Abidemi Rufai, a former side to Ogun State Governor, Dapo Abiodun, was wearing a $10,000 watch and $35,000 gold chain when he was arrested at JFK International Airport in New York on his way to Nigeria in May 2021.
Rufai pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Tacoma, Washington, in May to wire fraud and aggravated identity theft charges, and Judge Benjamin Settle issued the sentence Monday. The judge also ordered Rufai to pay more than $600,000 in restitution.
Prosecutors said the 45-year-old had a history of defrauding the U.S. government, including using stolen identities to file for emergency relief after hurricanes in Texas and Florida.
“When disaster struck, so did Mr. Rufai,” Seattle U.S. Attorney Nick Brown said in a news release. “Whether it was hurricane disaster relief, small business loans, or COVID unemployment benefits, he stole aid that should have gone to disaster victims in the United States.”
Such fraud was rampant in pandemic relief programs, according to the U.S. Labor Department’s inspector general, who said last week that $45.6 billion may have been paid out improperly in unemployment insurance from March 2020 to April 2022.
The Justice Department filed charges against dozens of people in Minnesota last week in connection with a $250 million fraud scheme that exploited a federally funded child nutrition program during the pandemic.
Rufai, of Lekki, Nigeria, has a master’s degree and is politically connected in his home country, prosecutors said. He had purported to run a sports betting company since 2016, his finances were opaque and his main source of income apparently was defrauding the U.S. government.
He was known as a prolific political fundraiser, and in 2019, he ran unsuccessfully for Nigeria’s National Assembly, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Cindy Chang and Seth Wilkinson wrote in a sentencing memo.
Between April and October 2020, he use a cache of stolen identities — investigators found more than 20,000 of them, with birthdates and social security numbers in one of his email accounts — to file for pandemic-related benefits. He applied with the workforce agencies of at least nine states, including Washington’s Employment Security Department, in the names of at least 224 Americans.
Just after returning to Nigeria in August 2020, Rufai was appointed as a special aide to the governor of Nigeria’s Ogun State. He was featured in news magazines, photographed with a luxury Mercedes sport-utility vehicle he had purchased with stolen funds and had shipped to Nigeria.
Rufai later returned to the U.S., and on May 15, 2021 — just a day after prosecutors filed an amended complaint against him — he was arrested trying to leave the country on a business class flight. In recorded phone conversations from jail he discussed moving a large amount of money immediately following his arrest, prosecutors said.
Rufai apologized in a letter to the court, saying “my actions are outrageous and inexcusable.” He blamed them on gambling addiction and pressure to provide for his wife and children.
“Your honor, I am now a rehabilitated man that is ready to live a crime-free life and also be a responsible man to my family and my community as a whole,” he wrote.
The defense requested a 2.5-year sentence, citing letters from supporters who wrote that Rufai had a charitable foundation that helped pay educational fees for primary students. The Justice Department sought nearly six years, saying a longer term was necessary in part to deter others who might commit similar crimes.
2,044 stranded Nigerians repatriated from Libya in 8 Months – NEMA
The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), said it has repatriated 2,044 Nigerians stranded in the crisis-ridden North African country, Libya into the country.
This was disclosed by the Director General of NEMA, Mustapha Habib Ahmed, against the backdrop of fresh 174 stranded Nigerians brought back into the country from Libya at the Cargo wing of Muritala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, on Tuesday.
It could be recalled that the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), in collaboration with the European Union (EU) has been repatriating thousands of stranded Nigerians from various countries since 2017 through a Special Assisted Voluntary Repatriation Programme (SAVP).
The NEMA DG, who was represented by the Lagos territorial office coordinator, Ibrahim Farinloye, said in 2022, the agency received 12 flights, with 2,044 Nigerians that are stranded in Libya, but assisted back into the country.
Giving details of the repatriated Nigerians, he said, “Out of those brought back are, 848 male adults, 719 female adults, 180 children and 123 infants.
Agencies present to receive the returnees are, the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS); the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN); the Refugee Commission, the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), the Federal Ministry of Health and the Nigeria Police Force (NPF).
EU freezes Russian oligarchs’ assets worth over 10 billion Euro (Rs82K crore )
In retaliation to the Russian military offensive against Ukraine, the European Union has blocked the assets of Russian oligarchs worth nearly €10 billion (over Rs 82K crore) as part of sanctions, TASS reported.
Further, another set of frozen assets was reported in the month of April.
Earlier in April, the European Union had frozen about €30 billion (Rs 2,48,418 crore) in assets of Russian and Belarusian oligarchs and businesses.
Assets worth €29.5 billion have been frozen, and transactions worth €196 billion have been banned, according to the EU statement.
Josep Borrell has also recommended taking frozen Russian foreign exchange assets to reconstruct Ukraine.
Meanwhile, the European Union has approved a 500 million euro military aid tranche for Ukraine.
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