Contrary to belief that two Nigerians and an Israeli are being held in South Africa for smuggling $9.3 million cash into that country, no one is being detained over the matter, the South African Police service has told PREMIUM TIMES.
There had been widespread reports that two Nigerians and an Israeli national were arrested and detained in South Africa after they attempted to smuggle into that country US$9.3 million apparently meant for buying arms for the Nigerian intelligence service.
The men landed at Lanseria International Airport, Johannesburg, on September 5 in a private jet owned by the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Oritsejafor, with the money stashed in three suitcases.
At the time, the South Africa Revenue Service, SARS, said customs officers became suspicious when the passengers’ luggage were unloaded and put through the scanners.
The National Prosecuting Authority, NPA, in South Africa said there was an invoice for helicopters and armaments intended to be used in Nigeria.
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.
Under South African laws, a person entering or leaving the country is expected to carry cash not exceeding US$2,300, or the equivalent in foreign currency notes.
The identities of the Nigerians on the plane remained unknown and most Nigerians believe they and the Israeli were still being held as investigation continues.
But responding to PREMIUM TIMES enquiry, Paul Ramaloko, the spokesperson of the country’s police service, said no arrest was made after the arms money was intercepted and confiscated.
“No one was arrested on this day,” Mr. Ramaloko, a captain in the South African Police, told this newspaper. “We only seized the money.”
The police spokesperson however wouldn’t divulge the names of the other passengers on the plane.
“We can only name people who are criminally charged,” he said. “In this matter, no one has been charged. We are only talking about one person who checked in the luggage.
“The other people were allowed to go soon as they were cleared.”
When asked whether the person who checked in the luggage was the Israeli who had the combination to open the locks of the suitcases containing the U.S. currency, Mr. Ramaloko said he was not sure.
On the progress of investigation into the matter, the police service’s spokesperson said, “The investigation is continuing.
We will be guided by the outcomes on the investigation if anyone should be held criminally accountable.”
The South African authorities have since confiscated yet another US$5.7 million arms money from Nigeria.
As with the first deal, South Africa’s Asset Forfeiture Unit of the National Prosecuting Authority has seized the funds for allegedly being the proceeds of illegal transactions, reports say.
The second transaction was between Cerberus Risk Solutions, an arms broker in Cape Town, and Societe D’Equipments Internationaux, said to be a Nigerian company based in Abuja.
The deal, according to reports by South African City Press newspaper, fell apart after Cerberus which had earlier received from Nigeria R60 million (N1.02 billion) in its account at Standard Bank, tried to repay the money as it could not resolve its registration formalities with the South African authorities.
“Cerberus was previously registered as a broker with the National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC), but the registration expired in May this year,” City Press said.
“The marketing and contracting permits also expired at the same time. The company has since applied for re-registration, but the application lay in the NCACC’s mailbox for more than two months.
“Sources told Rapport that Cerberus apparently tried to pay the money back to the Nigerian company, after which the bank became suspicious,” the paper reported.
The paper added that while the NPA’s Asset Forfeiture Unit subsequently obtained a court order in the South Gauteng High Court to seize the money, the NPA spokesperson Nathi Mncube, said there were no indications the two transactions were related.
The Nigerian government has since claimed ownership of the seized funds, denying the deal was unlawful and warning South Africa of its investment in Nigeria.
In a terse reaction to what appears a potential diplomatic spat between the two countries, the Nigerian government denied the second transaction was illegal and reminded South Africa of how Nigeria has provided a beneficial environment for South African companies like MTN, DSTV and a host of others to do business unhindered.
“It is our hope that South Africa would reciprocate this noble gesture,” the National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, said, with a vow to eradicate Boko Haram regardless of the antics of “fifth columnists”.
Mr. Dasuki, named by the South African newspaper as the official who signed off the first controversial deal, confirmed the second transaction occurred as reported but firmly denied it was conducted illegally.
“We want to state clearly that a business transaction actually took place between a legitimate company in Nigeria and another legitimate one in South Africa through the bank,” said Mr. Dasuki through a spokesperson, Karounwi Adekunle.
“In the course of events, the South African company could not perform and decided to refund the money. What is illegitimate in this transaction done through the bank?” he queried.