Eight Nigerians have been sentenced to death in the United Arab Emirates for "a string of robberies at money exchanges and cash machines".
Twenty suspects were arrested for attacking security guards in four incidents of violence at Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) and money exchanges across Sharjah in late 2016. Nine of the suspects were convicted.
Abike Dabiri-Erewa, Nigeria's Senior Special Assistant to the President on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora, confirmed it on Friday in a statement describin the death sentence as "unfortunate". She also expressed concern over the development, stating that the incident is not an actual description of personalities of people of Nigeria.
"It is an unfortunate incident, but it is not an incident that defines who we are as a people," she said.
"If a few Nigerians have committed a crime for which they are being punished, thousands of Nigerians are doing great in that same country and are being appreciated and celebrated. Mr President, who meets Nigerians every time he goes on official trips outside the country, always appeals to Nigerians to be good ambassadors wherever they are.
“I must commend millions of our brothers and sisters excelling all over the world. Bad news travels fast and I appeal to the media to help spread the good news about Nigerians and not concentrate only on the once in a while negative stories."
Two UAE newspapers Gulf News and Khaleej Times reported the trial, but neither revealed the identities of the convicted Nigerians.
However, in its report, Gulf News said a ninth man was sentenced to six months followed by deportation for possession of stolen money. He denied the charge against him and said that one of the accused’s brothers asked him to transfer Dh60,000 to an account in his home country.
A total of 20 suspects were initially held for attacking security guards in four violent attacks at ATMs and money exchanges across Sharjah in late 2016. Out of 20 suspects, nine were convicted.
The verdict was handed down by Judge Majid Al Muhairi of Sharjah Criminal Court on Wednesday.
The paper said the eight-member gang attacked security trucks and entered establishments by force and threatened and assaulted staff and members of the public with bladed weapons in a spate of robberies, three of which were carried out in the same day on December 18, 2016.
The gang — who were all in the UAE on visit visas — were said to be highly organised and plotted a string of orchestrated attacks to ambush security trucks that were transporting money boxes to and from ATMs, and at least one money exchange in Sharjah.
The first robbery took place at a Dubai Commercial Bank ATM on King Abdul Aziz Street where Dh340,000 was stolen, then two days later they attacked an ATM in Al Safeer Mall in Al Nahda fleeing with Dh700,000, and an ATM in Muweilah where they stole Dh710,000. A fourth attack at a money exchange office near National Paints was foiled by Police.
The gang of 20 were arrested in record time but Police confirmed that only a portion of the stolen money — almost Dh1.8 million — had been recovered, as the gang members had divided the money among themselves and transferred it to their home country.
The development comes roughly three weeks after the Police in UAE said they had arrested five Nigerians who "stormed a money exchange in Sharjah and fled with Dh2.3 million".