CAUGHT—Lanseria Airport, Johannesburg, S-Africa. INSET: The Bombardier Challenger jet. Courtesy: Flightaware.
By Sam Eyoboka & Kingsley Omonobi
The Federal Government yesterday opened diplomatic discussions with South African authorities on the seizure of $9.3m illegally imported by two Nigerians and an Israeli citizen to purchase arms on behalf of Nigerian security services. The Nigerian government insisted that the deal was legal.
This is just as National President of Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, whose private jet, a Bombadier Challenger 600 marked N808HG, was used to convey the money has denied any involvement in the alleged deal.
It was gathered that the Federal Government has released data and documents on the transaction process to South Africa, thereby confirming that the entire operation involving the aircraft was ‘genuine’.
Vanguard further learnt that as a result of the preliminary diplomatic talks which were convincing to the South African authorities, the private jet may have been released to the Nigerian government pending the conclusion of a comprehensive investigation by South Africa.
According to findings, the Bi-Focal diplomatic talks with South Africa were both at governmental level and exchanges by intelligence services of the two nations.
Sources said the diplomacy also covered sharing of vital security information to prove that the deal was necessary.
It was gathered that the South African Government only faulted “non-declaration” of the cash by the delegation from Nigeria.
The source said: “Nigeria and South Africa are getting closer to diplomatic resolution of the row over the $9.3m transaction. The two nations have opened discussions.
“The Federal Government has submitted relevant data and documents on the transaction to South Africa and insisted that the transaction was legitimate.
“It also clarified that the funds were neither laundered nor smuggled for any covert manoeuvres. No launderer will be audacious to fly into a country in a chartered jet with such huge cash.
“The technical details on security matters, which necessitated the deal had been availed South Africa for screening.
“Based on initial scrutiny of the documents, the Challenger Jet has been released pending conclusion of a full-scale investigation by South Africa.”
Asked why South Africa impounded the cash, the source added: “There was procedural error at the airport, the team did not declare the $9.3million contrary to the aviation and Customs laws of South Africa. So, there was an oversight on the part of the delegation that went to complete the transaction.
“Nigeria is trying to complete the formality and we are confident that the cash will be released for the purpose it was meant for.”
The source added that, “Movement of cash for strategic purchase of security equipment by intelligence services is not new; it is a global trend. The FBI, KGB, MOSSAD and others do it.”
I have no hand in arms deal—Oritsejafor
Meanwhile, the National President of Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, whose private jet, a Bombadier Challenger 600 marked N808HG, was used to smuggle $9.3m into South Africa for alleged purchase of arms for the security services has denied any involvement in the alleged deal.
Denying any involvement in the use of the aircraft to smuggle money into South Africa, Pastor Oritsejafor in a statement yesterday, said the private jet has been on lease to another company, Green Coast Produce Limited since August 2 this year.
The statement signed by one Bayo Adewoye on behalf of Pastor Oritsejafor said, “the Word of Life Bible Church has been made aware of the recent media interest regarding an aircraft (Bombardier Challenger 600, Registration No N808HG) owned by Eagle Air Company in which our Pastor, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, holds a residual interest. On behalf of Pastor Oritsejafor, we can confirm that although he holds an interest in Eagle Air, the aircraft in question is not operated by Pastor Oritsejafor. The aircraft owned by Eagle Air Company, has confirmed that since 2nd August 2014, the aircraft has been leased to and is operated by Green Coast Produce Limited. This is a standard practice in the industry. Any and all enquiries in respect of the day-to-day operations of this aircraft are properly directed to the management of Green Coast Produce Limited.
A separate statement issued by Eagle Air Company signed by Mr Emmanuel Ohaeri also directed all enquiries in respect of the day-to-day operations of the aircraft to the management of Green Coast Produce Limited.
How plane was chartered, by Green Coast Produce
In its own response, Green Coast Produce Company Limited, in a statement signed by Dr Shima Adun said, “A Bombardier Challenger 600 aircraft Registration No N808HG was leased to us, Green Coast Produce Company Limited, on the 2nd of August 2014. We have since that time been running and managing charter services with the aircraft in accordance and compliance with global best practices. On the 5th of September 2014 the aircraft was hired from us by a John Ishyaku. The charter to John Ishyaku was upon the following documented terms:
*Depart Abuja-Johannesburg on the 5th of September 2014;
*Return to Abuja on the 6th of September 2014;
*To wait and return with the passengers.
“The said terms are normative within the industry.
“As with every other aircraft charter company, our knowledge of the cargo carried on the aircraft was in accordance with the information provided by ABC Limited. All cargo were accompanied by passengers who could readily defend the contents. We are not and can not be privy to any alleged extraneous cargo transported on the aircraft other than that declared in the agreed terms of hire. We are not liable and cannot be construed as a party to any alleged infractions, either in Nigeria or South Africa as the case may be, after the hire of the aircraft.
“We issue this statement without prejudice to any statutory or commissioned investigation being conducted or to be conducted in South Africa or Nigeria.
Plane left Abuja Sept 5
According to reports, the jet departed Abuja on Sept 5th and when it arrived South Africa, Customs officers became suspicious when the passengers’ luggage was unloaded and put through the scanners. The officers then investigated and found three suitcases full of cash. The passengers then told Custom officials that they were acting on behalf of the Nigerian intelligence service and provided documentation confirming they had come to South Africa to buy weapons for the Nigerian Security Services.
Spokesperson of the South African Revenue Service (SARS), Marika Muller in a statement said the money was seized at Lanseria airport, north-west of Johannesburg. The statement said “the passengers’ luggage was searched after Customs officials detected irregularities. The money was detained as it was undisclosed/undeclared and above the prescribed legal limit”.
The funds are being held at the central bank as police investigate, SARS spokeswoman, Marika Muller said.
Also, South African airport security spokesman Solomon Makgale confirmed that a police investigation was going on but declined to give further details.