2 NIGERIANS AND AN ISREALI SMUGGLE $9.3M INTO S/AFRICA
Money packed in suitcases, ferried in business jet
.Customs, NAMA, FAAN: We have no further details
South African authorities are investigating two Nigerians and an Israeli citizen who tried to bring $9.3 million in cash into the country illegally, a report said yesterday.
The three persons flew by a small business jet from Abuja into the Lanseria International Airport, northwest of Johannesburg, on September 5, South Africa’s City Press newspaper reported.
They had cash equivalent of N1.5 billion in unused $100 bills, packed in three suitcases, and claimed that the money was meant for buying arms for the Nigerian intelligence service.
The South African Revenue Service (SARS) seized the money which is now being held at the country’s central bank as police investigate, SARS spokeswoman Marika Muller said.
“The passengers’ luggage was searched after Customs officials detected irregularities. The money was detained as it was undisclosed/undeclared and above the prescribed legal limit,” Muller said in a statement yesterday.
A passenger entering South Africa may carry a maximum amount of R25,000 (equivalent N370,000 or $2,270) in cash, or the equivalent in foreign currency notes.
South African airport security spokesman Solomon Makgale confirmed a police investigation was underway but declined to give details, according to Reuters news agency.
The plane, a Challenger 600, had a Nigerian flight crew on board, along with the two Nigerian citizens and an Israeli. It was piloted by Captain Ojongbede.
The aircraft was temporarily impounded but later allowed to return to Abuja, City Press said, and that one of the passengers was reportedly arrested.
A source told Daily Trust yesterday that the Israeli man is owner of an Abuja-based security firm. The source said because the money was not declared in Abuja, there was no documentation that would have shown why they were carrying so much cash. Without the documentation there was no end-user certificate that could have cleared matters with the South African authorities, he added.
Suitcases full of cash
Adrian Lackay of the SARS said customs officers became suspicious when the passengers’ luggage was unloaded and put through the scanners. The officers then investigated and found three suitcases full of cash.
The passengers provided documentation showing they had come to South Africa officially to buy weapons on behalf of the Nigerian government.
City Press reported that the South African 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.
City Press also reported that the South African 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, the newspaper said.
‘No further details’
Nigerian authorities contacted by Daily Trust yesterday declined to make comments saying they had no further details on the incident.
The Nigerian Customs Service, which is supposed to record any movement of cash above $10,000, said it was trying to get further information from the South African authorities.
“We read it as you also did in the news. We are in contact with our counterpart in South Africa for details. We are therefore waiting for their response as we have no further details for now,” Customs spokesman Wale Adeniyi told Daily Trust.
A spokesperson for the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) in Abuja, Mrs. Henrietta Yakubu, said the issue was purely a customs matter.
“Private aircraft land and take off at GAT (General Aviation Terminal). Customs usually go into the plane to check for anything. The head of security said we, FAAN, have nothing to do with it; ours is just to protect the aircraft on our land not to check the passengers when they go to board,” she told Daily Trust.
For his part, Managing Director/CEO of the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), Mr. Ibrahim Abdulsalami, said he had no information on the matter.
Daily Trust reports that NAMA is supposed to have information on any aircraft that leaves Nigeria and its crew based on the flight plan and the manifest.
The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), which certifies all pilots and crew, did not respond to enquiries on the pilot of the flight that ferried the money to South Africa, Captain Ojongbede. NCAA’s Acting Director General Engr. Benedict Adeyileka did not return calls and did not reply to an SMS.
City Press newspaper reported 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 had nothing to do with the incident.
The newspaper also said it established that the aircraft is used by an entity called Swat Inc in Abuja, but no details of the company could be found.