We can’t return Nigeria’s seized $15m arms money without due process – South Africa

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By Nicholas Ibekwe

The South African government has indicated that it cannot return the
$15 million arms money it seized from Nigerian arms dealers unless
“due process” is applied in pushing for a refund.

Speaking on an African Independent Television (AIT) news programme on
Tuesday night, the South African High Commissioner, Lulu Mnguni,
reportedly said his country had no intention of keeping the seized
funds but would only release it to Nigeria after due process has been
followed.

“Well, obviously we also in South Africa don’t want to keep Nigeria’s
money, but we want to follow due process to address it. It’s their
money and so they would like to have their money back,” he said in
response to questions about the controversial transactions that have
sparked diplomatic row between the two countries.

He also said South Africa has no reason not to sell arms to Nigeria
adding that Nigeria has a long history of buying arms from his
country. “We’ve been selling arms to Nigeria for many years, so we
don’t have a problem. Why should we not sell arms to Nigeria? If
Nigeria needs arms to protect its citizens and its peoples, so we have
to assist them.”

The high commissioner commented on the controversial transaction few
hours after this medium reported that no Nigerian is being detained in
South Africa over the deal contrary to widespread reports that two
Nigerians and an Israeli national were arrested and detained after
they attempted to smuggle into that country US$9.3 million apparently
meant for buying arms for the Nigerian intelligence service.

Paul Ramaloko, the spokesperson of the country’s police service, said
no arrest was made after the arms money was intercepted and
confiscated.
“No one was arrested on this day,” Mr. Ramaloko, a captain in the
South African Police, told this newspaper. “We only seized the money.”
The police spokesperson also refused to reveal the names of the
passengers on the plane. “We can only name people who are criminally
charged,” he said. “In this matter, no one has been charged. We are
only talking about one person who checked in the luggage.
“The other people were allowed to go soon as they were cleared.”

On September 5, border authorities seized $9.3 million allegedly meant
for the procurement of arms for the Nigerian intelligence services
from two Nigerians and an Israeli who arrived the country in a private
jet owned by the leader of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Ayo
Oritsejafor, allegedly meant for the procurement of arms for the
Nigerian military.

The money stashed in three suitcases was discovered custom officers
after the suitcases were put through airport scanners. The money was
concealed in 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,
South African National Prosecuting Authority, NPA, said.

The NPA said it found an invoice for a helicopter and armaments meant
for Nigeria with the suspects. While the furore created by the cash
seizure was yet to settle, South African authorities again seized
another sum of $5.7 million transferred by Societe D’Equipments
Internationale of Nigeria, to South African arms company, Cerberus
Risk Solutions, for the procurement of arms. South African
investigators said as at the time the deal was signed, Cerberus Risk
Solutions’ license to deal in arms had expired.

Meanwhile, Femi Falana, a senior lawyer in a statement Tuesday said
from the details of the arms deals the Federal Government was not
implicated in the seizure of the N15 million. According to Mr Falana,
the office of the National Security Adviser carelessly dragged the
government into the embarrassing affair by its amateurish handling of
the issue.
Mr. Falana said instead of accepting responsibility for the botched
deals, the Federal government should have indicted the its arms
contractors and seek to recoup its money from them for patronising
unauthorised arms companies in South Africa.

“Contrary to the mismanagement of information traceable to the office
of the NSA the Federal Government did not place any direct order for
the importation of arms from South Africa,” he said. “The fact that
the NSA signed the End User certificate for the arms importation is
not a license for the companies involved in the deal to breach the
laws of South Africa.

In other words, the Israeli and two Nigerians who were arrested last
month for smuggling the sum of $9.3 million and the Nigerian company
involved in the transfer of the $5.7 million to South Africa are not
public officers. As independent contractors they were awarded
contracts for the supply of arms by the Federal Government and paid
accordingly. It is indubitably clear that the suspects were negligent
for failing to conduct due diligence.

“Since the Federal Government cannot be held vicariously liable for
the alleged criminal activities of the suspects the office of the NSA
ought not to have embarrassed the nation by giving the erroneous
impression that Nigeria had breached the law of another country.

“As a sovereign entity the Federal Government can place orders for the
purchase of arms either from another government or from independent
arms dealers. But when the office of the NSA decided to award
contracts to private corporate bodies for the supply of arms it could
not have clothed them with immunity or license to breach local or
foreign laws. Instead of exposing Nigeria to further ridicule the
Federal Government should stop accepting responsibility for the
alleged criminal actions of the suspects indicted in the alleged
laundering of the sum of $15 million.”

Mr Falana said by threatening to go after South African investments in
the country over the controversial deal, the Federal government threw
its moral authority out of the window.
“By asking South Africa to reciprocate the gesture of allowing MTN and
DSTV to operate in Nigeria is the Federal Government saying that both
South African companies are allowed to breach the law of the land?”

He also chastised the National assembly for its shoddy handling of the issue.
“Regrettably, the National Assembly treated this matter of urgent
national importance so cavalierly and in the process left many
questions unanswered. Otherwise how could both chambers have failed to
examine the statement of the NPA that the official explanations for
the suspicious transactions are riddled with contradictions? Mr Falana
said the Nigerian government should call the NSA to order and
apologise to Nigerians for dragging the country into the embarrassing
affair.

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