The South African government has indicated that it cannot return the $15 million arms money it seized from Nigerian arms dealers unless “due process” is applied in pushing for a refund.
Speaking on an African Independent Television (AIT) news programme on Tuesday night, the South African High Commissioner, Lulu Mnguni, reportedly said his country had no intention of keeping the seized funds but would only release it to Nigeria after due process has been followed.
“Well, obviously we also in South Africa don’t want to keep Nigeria’s money, but we want to follow due process to address it. It’s their money and so they would like to have their money back,” he said in response to questions about the controversial transactions that have sparked diplomatic row between the two countries.
The high commissioner did not indicate what that “due process” entails. But Nigeria may need to challenge the ruling of the South African court which gave the South African National Prosecution Authority the authority to freeze and seize the funds.
He also said South Africa has no reason not to sell arms to Nigeria adding that Nigeria has a long history of buying arms from his country.
“We’ve been selling arms to Nigeria for many years, so we don’t have a problem. Why should we not sell arms to Nigeria? If Nigeria needs arms to protect its citizens and its peoples, so we have to assist them.”
The high commissioner commented on the controversial transaction few hours after PREMIUM TIMES reported that no Nigerian is being detained in South Africa over the deal contrary to widespread reports that two Nigerians and an Israeli national were arrested and detained after they attempted to smuggle into that country US$9.3 million apparently meant for buying arms for the Nigerian intelligence service.
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 also refused to reveal the names of the 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.”
On September 5, border authorities seized $9.3 million allegedly meant for the procurement of arms for the Nigerian intelligence services from two Nigerians and an Israeli who arrived the country in a private jet owned by the leader of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Ayo Oritsejafor, allegedly meant for the procurement of arms for the Nigerian military.
The money stashed in three suitcases was discovered custom officers after the suitcases were put through airport scanners. The money was concealed in 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, South African National Prosecuting Authority, NPA, said.
The NPA said it found an invoice for a helicopter and armaments meant for Nigeria with the suspects.
While the furore created by the cash seizure was yet to settle, South African authorities again seized another sum of $5.7 million transferred by Societe D’Equipments Internationale of Nigeria, to South African arms company, Cerberus Risk Solutions, for the procurement of arms.
South African investigators said as at the time the deal was signed, Cerberus Risk Solutions’ license to deal in arms had expired.
Meanwhile, Femi Falana, a senior lawyer in a statement Tuesday said from the details of the arms deals the Federal Government was not implicated in the seizure of the N15 million.
According to Mr Falana, the office of the National Security Adviser carelessly dragged the government into the embarrassing affair by its amateurish handling of the issue.
Mr. Falana said instead of accepting responsibility for the botched deals, the Federal government should have indicted the its arms contractors and seek to recoup its money from them for patronising unauthorised arms companies in South Africa.
“Contrary to the mismanagement of information traceable to the office of the NSA the Federal Government did not place any direct order for the importation of arms from South Africa,” he said.
“The fact that the NSA signed the End User certificate for the arms importation is not a license for the companies involved in the deal to breach the laws of South Africa.
In other words, the Israeli and two Nigerians who were arrested last month for smuggling the sum of $9.3 million and the Nigerian company involved in the transfer of the $5.7 million to South Africa are not public officers.
As independent contractors they were awarded contracts for the supply of arms by the Federal Government and paid accordingly. It is indubitably clear that the suspects were negligent for failing to conduct due diligence.
“Since the Federal Government cannot be held vicariously liable for the alleged criminal activities of the suspects the office of the NSA ought not to have embarrassed the nation by giving the erroneous impression that Nigeria had breached the law of another country.
“As a sovereign entity the Federal Government can place orders for the purchase of arms either from another government or from independent arms dealers.
“But when the office of the NSA decided to award contracts to private corporate bodies for the supply of arms it could not have clothed them with immunity or license to breach local or foreign laws.
“Instead of exposing Nigeria to further ridicule the Federal Government should stop accepting responsibility for the alleged criminal actions of the suspects indicted in the alleged laundering of the sum of $15 million.”
Mr Falana said by threatening to go after South African investments in the country over the controversial deal, the Federal government threw its moral authority out of the window.
“By asking South Africa to reciprocate the gesture of allowing MTN and DSTV to operate in Nigeria is the Federal Government saying that both South African companies are allowed to breach the law of the land?”
He also chastised the National assembly for its shoddy handling of the issue.
“Regrettably, the National Assembly treated this matter of urgent national importance so cavalierly and in the process left many questions unanswered. Otherwise how could both chambers have failed to examine the statement of the NPA that the official explanations for the suspicious transactions are riddled with contradictions?”
Mr Falana said the Nigerian government should call the NSA to order and apologise to Nigerians for dragging the country into the embarrassing affair.