President Goodluck Jonathan met yesterday with some security chiefs over the $9.3m arms deal that went away in South Africa, a source said.
Jonathan reportedly demanded “full briefing” on how South African security agents impounded the cash from two Nigerian and an Israeli in Pretoria after it was flown in by a private jet.
The Nigerians and the Israeli were said to have told security agents that the money was meant for some arms purchase.
Security chiefs, it was learnt, defended the arms deal as “legitimate”.
Also yesterday, the Federal Government and South African authorities appeared to have struck some understanding on the matter.
Based on diplomatic understanding, the aircraft, a Challenger, and the crew have been released.
But a top intelligence official yesterday claimed that the transaction was “legitimate” and the facts had been made available to the South African government.
He said the arms order was based on “urgent security” concerns in Nigeria.
Investigation by our correspondent revealed that South Africa raised the alarm because of alleged abuse of protocol.
A highly-placed source said: “For more than five hours, the President met with some intelligence and security chiefs on the arms deal.
“The security chiefs took time to explain that urgent security issues warranted the direct purchase of the arms.
“The President opted for full briefing to avoid any backlash on his administration. It will also assist the government to come up with a clear position to the public. Now that the Presidency has the details, it is left to the government to clarify things.
“When the government speaks, you will get the details of what transpired on the $9.3million arms deal.”
South African police said yesterday that it investigating the cash haul – because the money was more than the amount travellers can bring into the country. The cash was found stashed in the luggage of the two Nigerians and the Israeli, Eyal Mesika.
South African Customs officials said it confiscated the cash from the three passengers who landed on a private jet that flew in from Abuja at Johannesburg’s Lanseria airport.
Their bags were searched “after customs officials detected irregularities in the luggage,” said South African Revenue Authority spokeswoman Marika Muller.
The cash, packed in 90 blocks of $100,000 each, was discovered on September 5 in two black plastic suitcases, prosecutors said.
Mesika, had the combination lock code for the suitcases. Some cash was also found in Mesika’s hand luggage.
“The money was detained as it was undisclosed, undeclared and above the prescribed legal limit for bringing cash into the country,” said Muller.
The maximum cash allowance per traveller in South Africa is the equivalent of $2,285.
“Although various explanations about the money were given… these explanations were flawed and riddled with discrepancies,” said South Africa’s prosecution authority spokesman Nathi Mncube.
Police said no arrests had been made.
“We are still investigating,” police spokesman Solomon Makgale told French News Agency AFP.
Mncube 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”.
South African media claimed that the invoice had been found on one of the passengers.
“The goods were intended to be used in Nigeria,” said Mncube.
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.
On its website, the company says it offers aviation, logistics, security and risk management support.
The government has begun diplomatic talks with South Africa on the case.
Another source said “the Federal Government has explained that the transaction was a product of legitimate and clean business.”
“All relevant documents relating to the transaction have been made available to the South African Government at the diplomatic level.”
“Security agencies of the two countries have also been exchanging notes on the case. The deal borders on serious security issues which cannot be released to the public,” he said.
A third security source gave background to the case at hand and why South Africa joined issues with the government.
The source added: “South Africa intercepted the cash because of non-declaration of the items at the airport. If the team had completed all formalities, no one would have heard of it.
“So, alleged breach of protocol by those on errands for the intelligence service in the country caused thus upset.”
Responding to a question, the source said: “The team went to South Africa with the huge sum because of urgent security concerns.
“Whether in the UK, USA or any other country, you make direct purchase of arms in a crisis situation like the ones we are in Nigeria.
“The same scenario is obtainable in Syria, Iraq and even in Gaza but no one talks of it.”
The source said: “We are streamlining the process, the cash will surely be made available to the relevant agents or firms in South Africa.
“The $9.3million was not a slush cash or smuggled for questionable pursuits in South Africa.”