- Buying arms for terror in Nigeria with private jets, coordinated by the State intelligence department and army chiefs like General Ihejirika
- The group also had documents confirming they were in South Africa to buy arms.
Nigerians bust with $10m in suitcases
The cash, unused $100 bills, was packed in three suitcases and was apparently meant for buying arms for the Nigerian intelligence service.
The plane, a Challenger 600, had a Nigerian flight crew on board, along with two Nigerian citizens and an Israeli. It was piloted by a Captain Ojongbede and the flight had come from Abuja, the capital of Nigeria.
Adrian Lackay, spokesperson for the SA Revenue Service (Sars), confirmed that customs officers became suspicious when the passengers’ luggage was unloaded and put through the scanners just after 7pm. The officers then investigated and found three suitcases full of cash.
The passengers apparently told officials they were acting on behalf of the Nigerian intelligence service.
They provided documentation confirming they had come to South Africa to buy weapons. It is not clear whether the Israeli passenger was an intelligence operative or an arms dealer.
The National Conventional Arms Control Committee, which has to approve the import and export of any weapons as well as issue permits for such transactions, was not aware of any applications in this case.
A committee spokesperson said they were aware of the incident, but did not respond to requests for further information.
Hawks spokesperson Captain Paul Ramaloko confirmed the incident. City Press understands that the National Prosecuting Authority unit that investigates crimes against the state is also involved in the case, and the State Security Agency has also shown interest in the matter.
Arms transactions are not usually paid for in cash, and a complicated bank transfer system is needed to transfer large amounts of money from one country to another.
Lackay said Sars officials made certain that the money was properly packaged, and sealed and handed to the Reserve Bank for safekeeping until the investigation was completed.
The case was reported to the Muldersdrift Police Station, west of Joburg, and the seizure of the money was documented accordingly, said Lackay.
The aircraft was temporarily impounded, but was allowed to return to Abuja on Monday morning.
According to unconfirmed reports, one of the passengers was arrested.
Further investigation revealed that the aircraft used to belong to the American healthcare company Kimberly-Clark. But company spokesperson Bob Brand said the firm had sold the plane years ago, and denied that it had anything to do with the incident.
According to the US Federal Aviation Administration aeroplane register, the Challenger, with the registration number N808HG, was reregistered in the name of Bank of Utah Trustee last year. The address in the register was given as Salt Lake City, US. 200 E SOUTH TEMPLE STE 210, Uttah 84111.
Aviation industry insiders claim similar “owners” have previously been involved in several controversial aircraft financing transactions for aircraft in Africa.
City Press has also established that the aircraft is used by an entity called Swat Inc in Abuja, but no details of such a company could be found.
Another plane used by Swat Inc, a Hawker Siddeley 125, also with an American registration number (N497AG), landed at Lanseria Airport last month. That plane and its passengers remained in the country for two days before returning to Abuja on August 13.
The Nigerian High Commission in Pretoria failed to respond to written and telephonic enquiries this week.
Jack Hillmeyer, spokesperson for the American embassy, said no one at his embassy knew anything about the aircraft or the incident.
The SA Reserve Bank’s regulations provide that a passenger entering or leaving the country may carry a maximum amount of R25 000 in cash, or the equivalent in foreign currency in notes.
The passenger may be stopped and asked to declare the cash and state the origin of the money.
He or she may also be asked for the letter of permission from the central bank in their country of origin.
And if there is any suspicion that the cash is meant for money laundering, customs officers may seize it.
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. Last Friday, a North Gauteng High Court granted the NPA’s asset forfeiture unit an order for the freezing of the cash.
Eyal Mesika is CEO EMI Systems
We are a world class Israeli security company with core competence in the design, installation and maintenance of varied “full options “turnkey security solutions.
We have our head office in Israel and branches in Abuja, Lagos and Port Harcourt from where we service cities across Nigeria. We also have our factory in Lagos, Nigeria.
We are one of the largest privately owned security outfits in Nigeria, We have over sixteen (16) years working profile in Nigeria, and we are key players in the international and national Arena. Our clientele includes international organisations, government agencies and most embassies in the country.
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Email: [email protected]
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“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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