Two Nigerians, Israeli caught in South Africa for smuggling about US$10 million to buy arms

Two Nigerians and an Israeli national are facing investigation in South Africa after they attempted to smuggle US$9.3 million apparently meant for buying arms for the Nigerian intelligence service.

The suspected smugglers landed at Lanseria International Airport, Johannesburg, on September 5, in a private jet from Abuja with the money stashed in three suitcases, according to City Press, a South African based newspaper.

Adrian Lackay, Spokesperson for the South Africa Revenue Service, SARS, confirmed that customs officers became suspicious when the passengers’ luggage were unloaded, according to the paper, and put through the scanners.

The National Prosecuting Authority, NPA, in South Africa said that an invoice for helicopters and armaments intended to be used in Nigeria, provided by the alleged smugglers, could provide details as to why they were bringing such money into the country.

Under South African laws, a person entering or leaving the country is expected to carry cash not exceeding R25,000 (about US$2,300), or the equivalent in foreign currency notes.

Also, arms transactions usually involve a complex bank transfer system needed to move the money between the countries involved in the deal; they are rarely done in cash.

The SARS seized the money initially because it was not disclosed at customs, said Nathi Mncube, NPA spokesperson.

Two black plastic suitcases, filled with 90 blocks each containing US$100,000 in notes, with combination locks, were seized, as well as two pieces of hand luggage also containing US currency, according to City Press.

The Israeli national, Eyal Mesika, had the combination to open the locks.

Investigations by South African authorities uncovered an invoice from Tier One Services, a subsidiary of the Tier One Services Group Limited, to Cyprus-based company ESD International Group Ltd.

A statement on the company’s website states that Tier One Services Group “provides aviation, logistics, security, risk management support and specialised training services to organisations and individuals operating in austere and challenging environments.”

Its offices are spread across the Middle East and Africa.

The invoice from Tier One to ESD was for armaments and helicopters, according to Mr. Mncube.

“In 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 agreement between Tier One and ESD was concluded on September 8, according to City Press, three days after the money was seized at Lanseria.

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Last Friday, a North Gauteng High Court granted the NPA’s asset forfeiture unit an order for the freezing of the cash.

“The NPA … submitted to the court that, although various explanations about the money were given to the investigating officer, these explanations were flawed and riddled with discrepancies,” Mr. Mncube said.

“The order was granted in terms of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act, which provides that property that is used to commit a crime can be frozen while the NPA applies for a final order to forfeit the money to the state.”

Mr. Mncube said that the money was being kept safe by the South Africa Reserve Bank.

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