October 8, 2014 / 5:49 PM / 3 years ago

Nigeria says cash for arms seized in South Africa was 'legitimate'

ABUJA (Reuters) - Nigeria said on Wednesday that $15 million that had been seized by South African authorities in two separate incidents was money for ‘legitimate’ arms deals, and it urged its rival African power to release the funds.

South Africa froze $5.7 million worth of funds that it had been alerted to as suspicious by Standard Bank, money which was purportedly to buy arms including 50 M-75 cannons and 200,000 rounds of ammunition.

The move followed the seizure last month of $9.3 million in cash from a private jet carrying two Nigerians and an Israeli.

Nigeria, which says it needs the arms to fight an Islamist insurgency raging in the northeast, said both payments were intended for deals between private companies procuring weapons for Nigerian forces.

South Africa’s National Prosecutor said in a statement on Tuesday that the latest seizure covered armaments considered ‘controlled items’, and the deal was being conducted without relevant permits.

The office of Nigeria’s National Security Advisor (NSA) Sambo Dasuki, the country’s highest security authority, rejected the charge, the latest in a long run of diplomatic spats between Africa’s two biggest economies that has soured relations.

“We want to state clearly that a business transaction actually took place between a legitimate company in Nigeria and another legitimate one in South Africa through the bank,” NSA spokesman Karounwi Adekunle said in a statement.

He said that the company had not been able to obtain the arms and so tried to refund the money.

South Africa has named the company as Cerberus Risk Solutions. It was not immediately possible to obtain comment from the firm.

The row comes as South Africa and Nigeria are also at loggerheads over the death of 115 South Africans last month in the collapse of a guesthouse attached to a Nigerian church owned by televangelist TB Joshua on Sept 12.

South Africa says Nigeria has refused access to the bodies of the deceased for DNA testing or burial ever since the tragedy, a charge the Nigerians have not responded to.

Reporting by Felix Onuah; Additional reporting by Ed Cropley in Johannesburg; Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Dominic Evans

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