South Africa has rejected explanations by the Nigerian government on the $9.3m cash seized from two Nigerians and an Israeli citizen in a chartered private jet for the purpose of procuring arms for the Nigerian intelligence services.
According to an online news medium, Premium Times, South Africa described as “flawed and riddled with discrepancies,” explanations by the Nigerian government that the money was meant to procure arms.
This is just as the All Progressives Congress, APC raised 15 posers asking President Goodluck Jonathan to avail Nigerians full disclosure on the alleged scandal.
The private jet used to convey the cash was owned by the National President of Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, who has since denied any involvement in the arms deal, saying the aircraft has since August 2, been leased to another company, Green Coast Produce Limited.
The Federal Government, in a statement by PRNigeria, an agency that releases statements for the military, police and other security agencies said “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 South African prosecution agency, in a statement sent to Premium Times, however said “Although various explanations about the money were given to the investigating officer, these explanations were flawed and riddled with discrepancies.”
S’Africa moves to seize money
Already, the Asset Forfeiture Unit, AFU, of the National Prosecuting Authority of South Africa, NPA, has obtained a court order to freeze the money.
The NPA, in a statement said that the manner in which the money was brought into the country breached the country’s laws that deal with the transfer of foreign exchange of such proportion.
“The money was initially detained by the South African Revenue Service (SARS) as it was neither disclosed nor declared at Customs, and was above the prescribed legal limit for the amount of cash that may be brought into the country,” it said in a statement.
Investigators also cast serious doubt on the Nigerian government’s explanation that the money was meant for the procurement of arms and that it has provided documents and receipts to back its legitimacy, raising serious concern that suspects might have been in the process of laundering the money before it was intercepted.
The NPA said its investigation shows that Tier One Services Group, the firm Nigerian government claimed it wanted to procure the arms from, is not authorised to sell or rent military hardware.
“In the court papers, the NPA submitted evidence that Tier One is not registered with the National Conventional Arms Control Committee and is thus not authorised to enter into any agreements regarding the sale and/or rental of military equipment,” the statement read.
Tier One has apparently issued an invoice to a Cyprus-based company, ESD International Group Ltd, ESD, in respect of the procurement of armaments and helicopters to be delivered to Nigeria.
However, South African investigators said the time the invoice was prepared and the time the money was brought in threw up some serious issues of its true intent.
The money was ferried to South Africa less than a week from the date the invoice was prepared (September 8, 2014).
The involvement of a Cyprus-based company also heightens the suspicion that this may be a case of classical money laundering.
The NPA added that the transaction did not follow normal procedure in the procurement of the kind of equipment it was alleged to have been meant for.
Tell Nigerians the truth, APC urges Jonathan
Meanwhile, the All Progressives Congress, APC, has urged President Goodluck Jonathan to come clean on the circumstances surrounding the seized money.
In a statement issued in Abuja yesterday by its National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the party also called on the National Assembly to launch an urgent investigation into the issue, saying the silence of the peoples’ representatives on the issue is deafening, unfathomable and unacceptable.
According to the statement, ”it is absolutely urgent for President Jonathan to clear the air on this alleged off-the-shelf equipment or arms purchase, which runs against all known protocol for such purchases anywhere in the world. Military equipment and weapons are not bean cakes to be purchased by the road side.
There are globally-acceptable protocols for such purchases by governments, otherwise what differentiates a government from an insurgent group that is shopping for arms?
‘’Is the Jonathan Administration not aware that the UN General Assembly on April 2nd, 2013 adopted a landmark Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) to regulate the international trade in conventional weapons by avoiding the kind of road-side purchase that the Nigerian government is said to have been involved in?
Though the ATT has not come into effect, the fact that Nigeria is among few countries to have signed and ratified the treaty shows that the country is concerned by unregulated arms trade,’’ APC said.
The party said the resort to ‘’procedural error’’ to explain away the whole issue cannot work, because Nigerian authorities cannot pretend not to be aware that currency brought into or taken from South Africa is monitored by law, and that anyone bringing into that country more than R25,000 in South African currency or U$10,000 or the equivalent thereof in foreign currency must declare such.
It said that in any case, those who are using ‘’procedural error’’ as an alibi are being too clever by half. This is because if entering or leaving a country with undeclared $9.3 million is mere ‘’procedural error’’, why was Sule Lamido’s son convicted for not declaring a mere $50,000 dollars at the Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport?
APC said, however, that in the spirit of fairness, it has decided to give President Jonathan and the government he heads the opportunity to make urgently-needed clarifications by answering a number of questions relating to the $9.3 million scandal: Is the money indeed meant to purchase a helicopter as has been reported?
To which arm of the government or security force does the money belong? Who appropriated it and for what purpose? Why was the money being ferried in cash by the same government that has been spending huge time and money to promote a cashless policy? Is the resort to cash to avoid a paper trail for the transaction, in which case it is illegal?
‘’Mr. President, we are aware that each arm of security has an account with the CBN for the purpose of arms purchase and such transactions are properly documented, so why was this not the case in this instance?