Court Orders South Africa To Return Seized $9.3 Million Arms Deal Cash To Nigeria
A South African High Court in Pretoria has ordered the South African government to hand over a sum of $9.34m to the Nigerian government on November 30, 2015.
The said amount had earlier been confiscated by the South African authorities from an Israeli arms dealer, Eyal Mesika, of Cyprus-based ESD International, who was acting on behalf of the Federal Government to procure arms for Nigeria.
A report by a South African news site, beta.iol.co.za, on Friday, said Nigeria would get the confiscated $9.34m on November 30, 2015, the arms dealer would be freed without prosecution and the South African government would engage in future arms deals with Nigeria.
“That is the result of a quiet deal finalizing 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 $9.34m cash for a ‘humanitarian’ arms deal,” the report said.
The report further stated that two weeks ago, the National Prosecuting Authority of SA agreed to hand over the cash to the defence adviser at the Nigerian High Commission in Pretoria, and that this agreement was made an order of the court.
“The high court in Pretoria order technically declares 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 is on November 30 if there is no further legal challenge,” it added.
The report also said the NPA spokesperson, Luvuyo Mfaku, said Nigeria 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.
The court papers outlined what happened after the flight landed on September 5 last year.
The man with the money was an Israeli arms dealer, Mesika, and Nigeria’s involvement had emerged only later.
Ideally, amounts over $10, 000 must be declared, but Mesika did not declare it until after officials scanned the bags and they could not work out what was in them. Subsequently, they asked him to explain.
It was reported that 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.
The Federal Government had said Mesika had procured armaments for the country 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 the country.
Part of the money was also planned to be used to buy 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.
However, the NPA’s Asset Forfeiture Unit in South Africa had 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 that 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, secures 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, the Federal Government had found that the diplomatic channels would not work, so the high commission applied to the court for the seized cash, which has now mandated the SA government to return the seized cash.