President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor has denied involvement in the case of two Nigerians and an Israeli who smuggled $9.3 million into South Africa, reportedly for arms purchase.
The three men flew into South Africa on September 5, and the cash equivalent of N1.5 billion was found in their luggage. The money was seized because it was undeclared and above the prescribed legal limit, South African authorities said.
Yesterday, Oritsejafor’s church issued a statement saying though the CAN president had interest in Eagle Air, owners of the jet that flew in the money, he had no link with the matter as the plane was leased to another company
“The Word of Life Bible Church has been made aware of the recent media interest regarding an aircraft (Bombardier Challenger 600, Registration No N808HG) owned by the company Eagle Air in which our Pastor, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, holds a residual interest,” the statement signed by Bayo Adewoye said.
“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 aircraft owned by Eagle Air Company, who have confirmed that since 2nd August 2014, the aircraft has been leased to and is operated by Green Coast Produce Limited.
“This is a standard practice in the industry. Any and all enquiries in respect of the day-to-day operations of this aircraft are properly directed to the Management of Green Coast Produce Limited. We will be happy to help the authorities with any enquiries.”
Green Coast Produce Company Limited also issued a separate statement yesterday saying they hired out the aircraft to one John Ishyaku, and were not aware of what he ferried with the plane.
“A Bombardier Challenger 600 aircraft Registration No N808HG was leased to us, Green Coast Produce Company Limited, on the 2nd of August 2014. We have since that time been running and managing charter services with the aircraft in accordance and compliance with global best practices,” said the statement, signed by Dr Shima Adun.
“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-Johanessburg 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 said terms are normative within the industry. As with every other aircraft charter company, our knowledge of the cargo carried on the aircraft was in accordance with the information provided by John Ishyaku. All cargo 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.
“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.”
So far, Nigeria security agencies have not responded to inquiries about the cash haul. Spokespersons of the Defence Headquarters, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Department of State Security Service did not respond to questions sent by text message and email on the matter yesterday.