Nigeria responded with fury Monday after South African authorities confiscated a second tranche of funds meant for arms purchase to fight the extremist Boko Haram sect, denying the deal was unlawful and warning South Africa of its investment in Nigeria.
The warning came after the South African government seized US$5.7 million wired by the Nigerian government through a bank to an arms dealer in that country.
South Africa’s Asset Forfeiture Unit of the National Prosecuting Authority said the money, about N952 million, was the proceeds of illegal transactions, according to local paper, City Press.
The seizure was the second in nearly three weeks, coming after authorities there froze $9.3 million transported in cash by two Nigerians and an Israeli for arms purchase. At the time, South Africa said the transaction violated its laws on movement of cash.
In a terse reaction to what appears a potential diplomatic spat between the two countries, the Nigerian government denied the second transaction was illegal and reminded South Africa of how Nigeria has provided a beneficial environment for South African companies like MTN, DSTV and a host of others to do business unhindered.
“It is our hope that South Africa would reciprocate this noble gesture,” the National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, said Monday, with a vow to eradicate Boko Haram regardless of the antics of “fifth columnists”.
Mr. Dasuki, named by the South African newspaper as the official who signed off the first controversial deal, confirmed late Monday the second transaction occurred as reported but firmly denied it was conducted illegally.
“We want to state clearly that a business transaction actually took place between a legitimate company in Nigeria and another legitimate one in South Africa through the bank,” said Mr. Dasuki through a spokesperson, Karounwi Adekunle.
“In the course of events, the South African company could not perform and decided to refund the money. What is illegitimate in this transaction done through the bank?” he queried.
Details of the latest transaction came more than two weeks after two Nigerians and an Israeli were arrested as they attempted to smuggle US$9.3 million through Lanseria International Airport, Johannesburg, on September 5 in a private jet from Abuja.
The money, stashed in three suitcases, raised suspicion when the passengers’ luggage were unloaded and put through the scanners.
The National Prosecuting Authority, NPA, in South Africa said there was an invoice for helicopters and armaments intended to be used in Nigeria.
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, according to City Press.
The Israeli national, Eyal Mesika, had the combination to open the locks.
Under South African laws, a person entering or leaving the country is expected to carry cash not exceeding US$2,300, or the equivalent in foreign currency notes.