A private jet seized weekend by South African authorities with a stack of $10 million in cash meant for arms purchase, belongs to the head of the Nigerian Christian community, the aviation ministry confirmed Tuesday.
Ayo Oritsejafor, the president of the Christian Association of Nigeria, 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. Two Nigerians and an Israeli were caught with the money allegedly meant for buying and supplying weapons to the Nigeria intelligence services. City Press, a South Africa-based newspaper had reported that the trio, who are already facing investigations, landed at Lanseria International Airport, Johannesburg on September 5, in the jet from Abuja with the money loaded in three suitcases.
The spokesperson for the South African Revenue Service, SARS, Adrian Luckay, confirmed that customs officers became suspicious when the passenger luggage were unloaded and scanned. 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, “Our attention has been drawn to press reports in respect of an aircraft (Bombardier Challenger 600, Registration No N808HG) in which our company holds a residual interest. “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 by 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, Shima Adun 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. “All cargoes were accompanied by passenger who could readily defend the contents. We are not and cannot be privy to any alleged extraneous cargo transported on the aircraft other than that declared in the agreed terms of hire,” the firm said. “We are not liable and cannot be construed as a party to any alleged infractions, either in Nigeria or South Africa as he case may be, after the hire of the aircraft,” it added.