Christian Association of Nigerian (CAN) President Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, yesterday explained his link with the Bombardier Challengers 600 jet which smuggled $9.3m cash into South Africa.
In a statement Pastor Oritsejafor admitted having an interest in Eagle Air Company that owns the Bombardier jet. He however said he had not been operating it.
The aircraft is with registration number N808HG.
The pastor?s spokesman, Bayo Adewoye, in the statement on his behalf said: ?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.
?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 August 2, 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.?
The Eagle Air company in another statement by Emmanuel Ohaeri, 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 August 2, 2014 been leased to and is operated by Green Coast Produce Limited.?
Admitting it operated the aircraft since August 2, Green Coast Produce Limited said it had been ?running and managing charter services with the aircraft in accordance and compliance with global best practices.?
Giving the circumstances surrounding the South African trip, Green Coast Produce spokesman Dr Shima Adun said: ?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 ABC Limited.
?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 he case may be, after the hire of the aircraft.
?We issue this statement without prejudice to any statutory or commissioned investigation being conducted or to be conducted in South Africa or Nigeria.?
Nigerian aviation agencies avoided speaking on the South Africa incident yesterday. But an official of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) said money laundering is a criminal offence which aviation agencies have little power over.
The NCAA official, who pleaded not to be named, described money laundering as a serious offence that the laws of aviation frowns at.
He said:?What I can tell you now is that money laundering is a criminal offence. The matter is being handled at the two governments? level. If at the end of the investigation the crew are found culpable, we will sanction them.?
A source in one of the agencies hinted that the problem does not lie with either the airspace agency or airport authority as the aircraft got the necessary flight approvals including take off rights and flight plan, but it was left for other agencies like the Nigerian Immigration Service and Nigerian Customs Service to find out the content of luggage on an aircraft .
The source hinted that the content including foreign currencies carried by passengers on board an aircraft is the prerogative of Customs and Immigration and other agencies to check. ?There is a law in place on how to carry money.?
A security source at the Lagos Airport urged the NCAA to beam its searchlight on foreign- registered aircraft flying in the Nigerian airspace.
The security expert warned that such aircraft should not be allowed to fly beyond their country of point of entry.
He said :? Over 80 per cent of private aircraft in Nigeria are foreign-registered and we have very little control over them if they are not registered in Nigeria.?