As investigation continues into circumstances surrounding a Nigerian private jet caught in Johannesburg with $9.3 million, Minister of Aviation, Osita Chidoka has disclosed that the jet belongs to Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, the president of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN).
The private plane with US registration number: N808HG was one of two jets cited by South African officials on September 5 with $9.3 million cash loaded in several suitcases. The cash, packed in 90 blocks of $100,000 each, was discovered on September 5 in two black plastic suitcases, prosecutors said.
Ayo Oritsejafor, the president of CAN, had however leased the jet to another party, Aviation Minister, Osita Chidoka, told PREMIUM TIMES; meaning Mr. Oritsejafor had no control over the use of the aircraft.
Mr. Oritsejafor’s church also confirmed the ownership in a separate statement Tuesday. The church said the pastor has a “residual interest” in Eagle Air, a company that manages the aircraft.
“On behalf of Pastor Oritsejafor, we can confirm that although he holds an interest in Eagle Air, the aircraft in question is not operated by Pastor Oritsejafor,” the statement by The Word of Life Bible Church said.
The aircraft was leased to, and is operated by Green Coast Produce Limited since August 2, the statement added.
In an earlier statement, Eagle Air Company admitted ownership of the jet held in South Africa for conveying $9.3 million cash for alleged arms deal. The jet is however back to Nigeria, according to the federal government
Two Nigerians and an Israeli were caught with the money allegedly meant for buying and supplying weapons to the Nigeria intelligence services.
In a statement by its General Manager, Emmanuel Ohaeri, Eagle Air Company also claimed holding a “residual interest” in the aircraft, a Bombader Challenger 600, Registration No 808HG.
The company however said it leased the aircraft to Green Coast Produce Limited since August 2.
The statement said, “We wish to confirm that the said aircraft has since the 2nd of August 2014 been leased to and is operated by Green Coast Produce Limited.
The company and Mr. Ortisejafor’s church advised that all media enquiries in respect of the day-to-day operations of the aircraft be directed to the management of Green Coast Produce Limited.
In yet another statement, the management of Green Coast Produce Company Limited confirmed the aircraft had been leased to it, saying such transactions were normal in the aviation industry.
The company explained that the aircraft was in turn hired from it by one John Ishyaku and therefore would not be liable for any alleged infractions either in Nigeria or South Africa after the hire.
The company’s director, ShimaAdun said in the statement that “On the 5th of September 2014 the aircraft was hired from us by a John Ishyaku. The charter to John Ishyaku was upon the following documented terms: (a) Depart Abuja-Johannesburg on the 5th of September 2014 (b) Return to Abuja on the 6th of September 2014 (c) To wait and return with the passengers”.
The company said as with every other aircraft charter company, its knowledge of the cargo carried on the aircraft was in accordance with the information provided by ABC Limited.
“We are not liable and cannot be construed as a party to any alleged infractions, either in Nigeria or South Africa as the case may be, after the hire of the aircraft,” it added.
The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) yesterday said collaboration between the two countries’ government are in top gear, the agency stated that money laundering is consider a criminal offence in its acts and vowed to sanction the Nigerian crew that flew the Challenger 600 private jet with registration number N808HG.
In a terse short message service sent to journalists by the Deputy General Manager, Public Affairs of the NCAA, Mr. Sam Adurogboye, the agency said the matter is being handled by both governments.
The text message simply read “What l can tell you now as NCAA position is that money laundering is a criminal offence. The matter is being handled at the two govts levels. If at the end of investigation and the crew are found culpable, we will sanction them.”
South African police also said Tuesday they had launched an investigation into the case. But said no arrests had been made. “We are still investigating,” police spokesman Solomon Makgale told AFP.
Reports said investigations had shown that a South African company, Tier One Services, had issued Cyprus-based ESD International Group Ltd an invoice for the “purchase of various armaments and helicopters”.
Local media claimed that the invoice had been found on one of the passengers. The goods were intended to be used in Nigeria.
Prosecutors said the normal procedure for the procurement of equipment was not followed and that Tier One does not have permission to sell or lease military gear.
However, there were indications yesterday that Nigeria has opened diplomatic talks with South Africa on how to resolve the stalemate on the controversial $9.3m seized funds.
Also, the Federal Government has released data and documents on the transaction process to South Africa.
It was learnt that Nigeria is trying to complete the formality and hopes that the cash will be released for the purpose it was meant for.