South Africa has said it will return seized $9.34 million (R129.5 million) arms deal to Nigeria on November 30.
That’s the result of a deal finalising a year-long international wrangle after South African customs officials and police stopped a man who flew into Lanseria Airport from Nigeria carrying bags stuffed with $9.34 million cash for a “humanitarian” arms deal.
Two weeks ago, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) agreed to hand over the cash to the defence adviser at the Nigerian High Commission in Pretoria, and this agreement was made an order of the court.
The high court in Pretoria order technically declared the money forfeited to the state, but also refers to the Nigerian government as “the innocent victim” and excludes its interests from the forfeiture order, which means Nigeria gets the money.
The handover, according to Sahara Reporters, would hold on November 30, if there was no further legal challenge.
NPA spokesman, Luvuyo Mfaku, said the Nigerian government had, in February, applied for its interest in the money to be excluded from the order, which was done.
“There is no criminal prosecution arising from this matter,” said Mfaku.
He, however, would not explain further.
The court papers outlined what happened after the flight landed on September 5, last year.
The man with the money was Israeli arms dealer, Eyal Mesika, of ESD International, based in Cyprus and Nigeria’s involvement emerged only later.
Over $10,000 must be declared, but Mesika did not declare it until after officials scanned the bags and asked him to explain.
All the paperwork indicated that the cash was for an arms deal that would not have been legal in South Africa. The cash was confiscated at the airport.
Nigerian officials said Mesika had procured armaments for the Nigerian government for 24 years and had the government’s cash to buy “humanitarian aid in the form of personnel, helicopters and equipment, as well as military arms” for Nigeria.
This included buying six “civilian” helicopters from a South African company, Tier One.
Mesika had an end-user certificate (to identify the ultimate buyer) to buy armaments, including rockets, guns and drones “for the use of the Nigerian Armed Forces,” but Nigeria said the weapons were to have been bought in another country.
Nigerian officials admitted that using cash was a little odd, but would expedite the deals and said Nigeria was battling terrorist group, Boko Haram and provided Wikipedia explanations on Boko Haram for the court.
The NPA’s Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU) said the cash was “linked to the illegal purchase of weapons and ammunition and/or money laundering.”
AFU officials said the end-user certificate and the seller at the airport with an invoice proved a planned arms deal in South Africa, the certificate differed from the invoice; the use of cash was suspicious; the sale agreement was signed only after the cash was seized and Nigeria did not initially try to claim the cash.
Nigeria admitted to “procurement errors” in South Africa, but said as a result of this incident, Nigeria and South Africa “have agreed that Armscor, the official arms procurement agency of the South African government and an organ of the state, secure arms of behalf of the Nigerian government going forward.”
In an official note to the AFU, asking for “early release” of the cash, the Nigerian High Commission claimed that the South African Presidency “has directed that litigation against the seized money should be withdrawn” as it was for hiring “humanitarian helicopters.”
By January, Nigeria found that diplomatic channels would not work, so the High Commission applied to the court for the seized cash.