A private jet that conveyed $9.3 million cash from Nigeria to South Africa for an arms deal between the two countries, had three Nigerians aboard, and passengers from Israel and Austria, new documents obtained by PREMIUM TIMES in Johannesburg have shown.
PREMIUM TIMES obtained the manifest of the jet that transported the huge sum, and has confirmed the identities of the passengers and crew who delivered the controversial package.
South Africa seized the money early September, accusing the Nigerian government of violating its
laws regulating the transfer of cash. Another payment by the Nigerian government for arms to combat the extremist Boko Haram sect, was also confiscated. The second transfer, totalling $5.7 million, was wired through the banks. The South African ambassador to Nigeria was later quoted as saying the money had been returned to Nigeria, a claim that has yet to be verified.
Details of the first transaction, revealed by a South African newspaper, City Press, said an Israeli and two Nigerians were aboard the airplane that transported the sum to Lanseria airport in South Africa.
The first tranche of the money was conveyed to South Africa on September 5 in two plastic bag suitcases and two hand luggage aboard an airplane belonging to Ayo Oritsejafor, the chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN.
While the Nigerian government confirmed the transactions, it denied violating any foreign law. The government also refused to provide the names of those aboard the airplane.
In its report, widely quoted in the Nigerian media, City Press said the Israeli passenger, Eyal Mesika, had the key to the combination lock of the suitcases. The paper also said two Nigerian passengers were aboard the plane. It quoted South African law enforcement officials.
The report however did not reveal the identities of the Nigerians, and South African officials also declined to provide those details to PREMIUM TIMES when contacted from Nigeria by telephone.
In an investigation that involved visiting South Africa, PREMIUM TIMES has obtained documents showing details of the transaction, including the flight manifest of the airplane.
The listing shows that beside Mr. Mesika, the only Nigerians on board the aircraft were crew members. The other two passengers who conveyed the cash were Austrians, the manifest shows.
The two Austrians are named, R. Wolfgang and M. Michael.
The flight crew members of the Project Eagle Air jet with flight number: N808HE were Ojongbede R.T (captain), Fejoku U, (flight officer) and George E.E (flight attendant).
The listing contradicts reports that the other passengers were Nigerians, a claim that set off an intense controversy after the All Progressives Congress, APC, accused a former militant leader, Dokubo Asari, of being one of those aboard the plane.
The APC relied on unverified reports by some news websites [not PREMIUM TIMES] in making the false claim. Mr. Asari denied the allegation and threatened legal action against Lai Mohammed, the spokesperson of the APC.
In an interview with PREMIUM TIMES at the time, Mr. Asari threatened to physically assault Mr. Mohammed if he failed to get justice in the courts.
“After all the South Africa People have given the names of people on the plane and if by next week we go to court and the court is being manipulated not to give me justice, I will resort to self-help,” he said.
I have the capacity to resort to self-help. I will not give anybody any apology because if a man has mouth to malign me then I can use what I have to fight for myself.”