Dodgy cash for a shady deal

2014-09-21 15:00

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An investigation into the $9.34?million (R103?million) in cash confiscated at Lanseria Airport on September 5 has shed light on South African government links to an alleged high-level deal to procure arms for the Nigerian intelligence service.

The cash, in unused $100 bills, is believed to have been the deposit for a proposed arms deal worth almost R300?million.

It emerged this week that three Nigerians, an Israeli arms dealer and two Austrians had travelled on the plane carrying the cash, which SA Revenue Services (Sars) officials found in two suitcases.

Hawks spokesperson Captain Paul Ramaloko confirmed that one of the plane’s Nigerian passengers was not in custody, but had not been permitted to leave the country.

“The money was designated on the flight manifesto as being his luggage and, therefore, he is the only person we are interested in at present,” Ramaloko said.

One of the passengers identified by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) as an arms dealer by the name of Eyal Mesika was in possession of the combination code that unlocked the two suitcases. He also carried three more sealed bundles of notes each containing $100?000 in his hand luggage, as well as another bundle from which some dollars had been used.

City Press’ sister newspaper, Rapport, has learnt that the group was found with a long wish list of weapons.

A source close to the investigation told City Press that there was allegedly a “top-level” agreement between the two countries’ governments that South Africa would help Nigeria procure the weapons. This, the source said, was also apparently the reason Sars retained the money, but allowed the plane and its other passengers to leave the country.

When the aircraft landed at Lanseria, suspicions were aroused when the luggage was scanned, and customs officials searched it and found the sealed bundles of US dollars.

The Asset Forfeiture Unit obtained an urgent interdict on September 12 in the North Gauteng High Court to provisionally freeze the money pending the outcome of the Hawks investigation.

During the court application, investigators from a team consisting of officials from the NPA’s unit investigating crimes against the state

alleged that the arms deal was facilitated by a company called Tier One Services.

Tier One Services allegedly provided the ESD International Group, which is based in Cyprus, with an invoice for the supply of weapons and helicopters. The weapons were intended for use in Nigeria.

However, Tier One Services is not registered as an arms supplier in South Africa by the National Conventional Arms Control Committee, which means the transaction was illegal.

A document presented in court revealed that the contract was only signed three days after the aircraft landed in South Africa, after the money had been seized.

Nigerian media reported last week that the deal could be traced back to the Nigerian presidency.

A select group of Nigerian journalists was informed off the record by a Nigerian presidency spokesperson that the deal was concluded during government-to-government talks. The Nigerian government apparently made the details and the documentation available to the South African authorities, after which the aircraft was allowed to return to Abuja with its passengers.

One of the aircraft’s owners is Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor of the Christian Association of Nigeria, who has close ties with President Goodluck Jonathan.

It is illegal in Nigeria to leave the country with such a large sum of money without the permission of the country’s government and central bank.

However, the presidency spokesperson also reportedly said it was not unusual for so much cash to be shifted between governments and intelligence services for use on “sensitive arms deals”.

The Christian Association of Nigeria has reportedly admitted that Oritsejafor owns shares in the plane, but that it was leased to a company called Green Coast Produce. This company in turn said that a Nigerian national by the name of John Ishyaku hired the plane for the trip.

Clayson Monyela, spokesperson for the department of international relations and co-operation, said there could be no intergovernmental talks taking place around the arms deal while a criminal case was being investigated.

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