A South African newspaper, Mail and Guardian reports that The South African Government may have bartered the bodies of 84 South Africans, who died in the Synagogue Building collapse in Lagos, for arms with Nigeria.
The paper said it saw two letters written by a Minister in the South African Presidency, Jeff Radebe, in which he promised to assist Nigeria ensure that an arms sale worth $9.3m (about R100-million), which had been blocked by South Africa, would proceed.
The Mail & Guardian reported that Radebe wrote to JP “Torie” Pretorius of the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigations (the Hawks), and Dumisani Dladla, the head of the national conventional arms control committee secretariat, seeking to assist the Nigerian government to get the weapons.
Nigeria wanted the arms, including helicopters and ammunition, to fight against the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram.
In October, the Asset Forfeiture Unit seized $5.7m that had been wired to Standard Bank in South Africa. Three weeks before that, $9.3m in cash was confiscated after being brought into the country via Lanseria Airport, north of Johannesburg, in three suitcases, by a delegation said to represent the Nigerian government.
In both instances, the money was apparently confiscated as the transactions it was to be used for were illegal.
In his letters, Radebe, the chairperson of the arms control committee, said it had come to the committee’s attention that the failed attempt on September 5 to pay an arms dealer in South Africa “was, in fact, a legitimate requirement from the government of Nigeria.”
“Although the required administrative processes were not adhered to at the time, the government of South Africa deems it a bona fide error,” Radebe said in his letters to Dladla and Pretorius.
The M&G however noted that Radebe found it difficult to sell his plan to other South African authorities as other law enforcement agencies looking into the arms money are pressing on with their investigations, and Radebe’s colleagues in the Cabinet are said to be less than impressed.
The Hawks spokesperson, Captain Paul Ramaloko, said that the investigation was continuing and that his investigators knew nothing about Radebe’s request for charges to be withdrawn.
Another Cabinet minister and arms committee member, said Radebe unilaterally wrote the letters to Dladla and Pretorius without consulting fellow committee members and only sought their blessing much later.
A government official said Radebe’s colleagues were accusing him of single-handedly legitimising the Nigerian arms procurement transaction.
But Radebe, through his spokesperson, Vanessa du Toit, said he was surprised by claims that three committee members had distanced themselves from the decision to help Nigeria to legitimise the arms deal because “this matter was discussed and approved at the October 30 2014 NCACC meeting.”
The South African Government in a swift reaction, described the report as rubbish, stressing that there was no barter with Nigeria on the arms deal.
SA Government spokesperson, Phumla Williams, debunked the story on Friday, in a statement, saying the report held no water.
William said, “Government places it on record that no form of bartering with Nigeria was conducted during the repatriation process.
But a source at an office strategic to the operations of the Federal Government said that the claim that the Federal Government had forfeited the $15m involved in the botched arms deal with South Africa for the corpses of South Africans who died in the Synagogue building collapse was untrue.
The source said that there was no link whatsoever between the synagogue tragedy and the funds involved in the arms deal.