15th September, 2014
South African police are investigating two Nigerians and an Israeli citizen who tried to bring $9.3 million in cash into the country illegally, a spokesman said on Monday.
There were suspicions that the money could be meant for arms. The Nigerians, coming from Abuja, were not identified, according to a report by Reuters.
The plane, a Bombardier Challenger 600, had a Nigerian flight crew on board. It was piloted by Captain Tunde Ojongbede, according to City Press.
Adrian Lackay, spokesperson for the SA Revenue Service (Sars), confirmed that customs officers became suspicious when the passengers’ luggage was unloaded and put through the scanners just after 7pm. The officers then investigated and found three suitcases full of cash.
The passengers apparently told officials they were acting on behalf of the Nigerian intelligence service.
They provided documentation confirming they had come to South Africa to buy weapons. It is not clear whether the Israeli passenger was an intelligence operative or an arms dealer.
The 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.
The South African Revenue Service (SARS) seized the funds at Lanseria airport, northwest of Johannesburg, on Sept. 5. The funds are being held at the 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.
South Africa’s City Press newspaper reported that bundles of unused $100 bills packed in three suitcase were transported in a small business jet from the Nigerian capital, Abuja.
The three passengers said they were using it to buy arms for the Nigerian security services, City Press said.
South African airport security spokesman Solomon Makgale confirmed a police investigation was underway but declined to give details.
The aircraft was temporarily impounded, but was allowed to return to Abuja on Monday morning.
According to unconfirmed reports, one of the passengers was arrested.
Further investigation revealed 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 denied that it had anything to do with the incident.
According to the US Federal Aviation Administration aeroplane register, the Challenger, with the registration number N808HG, was reregistered in the name of Bank of Utah Trustee last year. The address in the register was given as Salt Lake City, US.
Aviation industry insiders claim similar “owners” have previously been involved in several controversial aircraft financing transactions for aircraft in Africa.
City Press has also established that the aircraft is used by an entity called Swat Inc in Abuja, but no details of such a company could be found.
Another plane used by Swat Inc, a Hawker Siddeley 125, also with an American registration number (N497AG), landed at Lanseria Airport last month. That plane and its passengers remained in the country for two days before returning to Abuja on August 13.