Contrary to widespread reports in the Nigeria media (PREMIUM TIMES & NewsRescue not included) the South African government has not returned the $15 million seized from arms dealers purportedly buying arms for the Nigerian military.
PREMIUM TIMES can authoritatively report that the money remains frozen in South Africa and has not been returned to the Nigerian government.
In October, several media articles quoting the South African High Commissioner to Nigeria, Lulu Mnguni, reported that the money seized in connection with two dubious arms deal had been released to the Nigerian government.
However, Mr. Mnguni has told PREMIUM TIMES that the reports are false. Apart from the High Commissioner, the spokesperson of the South African National Prosecuting Authority, NPA, Nathi Mncube, and a South African source that is knowledgeable about the matter but requested not to be named, told PREMIUM TIMES in separate correspondences that the money was yet to be released to the Nigeria government.
Rather than return the money, there is possibility that the money may never be returned to the Nigerian government again.
Responding to PREMIUM TIMES enquiry about the extent of the investigation into the seized arms money, Mr. Mncube, who declined to give specific information because the NPA does not respond to matters under investigation, however, said the money may be forfeited to the South African government.
“In terms of our law, proceeds of crime are forfeited to the state,” he said.
On his part, Mr. Mnguni vehemently denied the reports credited to him that the matter has been resolved diplomatically and the money returned to the Nigerian government.
He said it was not procedural for the South African government to return frozen money in the manner suggested in the reports quoting him.
“We don’t refund money that way,” he said during a telephone conversation. “I said the matter would be resolved within the legal and legitimate means. That was what I said. I did not say the money has been refunded. And I did not follow up since then on whether the money has been refunded or not. It has to be done through the legal and legitimate means.”
PREMIUM TIMES investigation also revealed that instead of providing document that validated its claim that the deals were legal, the Nigerian government has been vigorously pursuing a diplomatic resolution of the matter.
Hard as it is trying, it appears the Nigerian government is merely chasing the wind, as the matter is no longer in the hands of diplomats and politicians.
Unfazed by subtle threat of the National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, to come hard of South African business interests such as MTN and DSTV in Nigeria, NPA obtained court orders freezing the money.
Now, Nigeria has to go through the full hog of court processes to secure its release – something the government, which claimed ownership of the money, appears incapable of doing following the backdoor manner the deals were reached.
“The money was frozen by two court orders and the court requires the documentations before the money is released,” Mr. Mncube said. “The money is still here and is not going anywhere. We would not release it if we don’t have a surety where the money is going. It is a court process.”
Shady arms brokers
The inability of the Nigerian government to recover the seized money is hinged on the fact that the two South African companies it was transacting the deal with may have lacked the legal status and the prerequisite authorisation to engage in such deals.
In fact, in addition to not having the legal authorisation to deal with the sale of military grade armaments, one of the companies, Cerberus Risk Solution, was in 2013 indicted for breaching a United Nations Security Council Resolution unlawfully by exporting controlled items to the Ivory Coast and is facing a criminal investigation over the matter.
With the first tranche of $9.3 million, the NPA said, Tier One Service Group, which the government wanted to procure the arms from, does not have the authorisation to sell or rent military equipment.
While casting doubt that the money was meant for the procurement of arms as claimed by the Nigerian government, South African investigators said Tier One was not a registered arms dealer.
“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,” a statement by NPA read.
An invoice obtained by the NPA showed an order for drones, rocket and attack helicopter.
In the second deal worth $5.7 million, South African investigators discovered that Cerberus Risk Solution neither has a valid Registration Certificate, valid Marketing Permit nor a contracting Permit – statutory documents stipulated by South African law before a company can engage in brokering a deal involving the sale of 50 units of M-75 20mm cannons and 200,000 rounds of 20mm ammunitions Societe D’Equipments Internationaux was seeking to buy on behalf of the Nigerian Military.
The NPA explained that though Cerberus Risk Solution was registered by the South African National Conventional Arms Control Committee and issued a registration certificate MS1-11-0001041 on May 30 2011 with legally empowers it to act as an agent to deal with “specialised military and law enforcement equipment”, its Registration Certificate expired on May 27, 2014 two weeks before it received the $5.7 million paid into its Standard Bank account.
The NPA also explained that though Cerberus was granted a Marketing Permit AMP2-12-0004803 on April 2 2012, the expiration of its Certificate of Registration automatically rendered that permit invalid.
On September 5, $9.3 million cash stashed in two plastic suitcases and two pieces of hand luggage was seized at the Lanseria International Airport, Johannesburg from three men, now identified as Israeli, Eyal Mesika, and two Austrian nationals, R. Wolfgang and M. Michael.
The private the jet that conveyed the money belongs to the president of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Ayo Oritsejafor, although the cleric has said he had leased the aircraft out and was ignorant of what it was being used for.
The NPA said the suspect did not obtain the necessary approval or documentation allowing them to carry more than the $2,300 cash limit allowed by South African law.
While the dust created by the confiscation of the cash was yet to settle, South African authorities seized another $5.7 million transferred by Societe D’Equipments Internationaux of Nigeria to a South African arms company, Cerberus Risk Solutions, for the procurement of another batch of arms.
The National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, who signed off on the first deal, said the arms deal was conducted legally. He reminded the South Africa government that Nigerian has provided favourable environment for South African companies such as MTN and DSTV to thrive unhindered. He said he expected the South African government to “reciprocate the noble gesture” by releasing the money.