Investigations reveal there may be more seedy dimensions to the private jet belonging to flamboyant pastor Ayo Oritsejaor that is at the heart of the cash-for-arms scandal involving the Nigerian government.
SaharaReporters has found that the purchase was discreetly undertaken with $15 million through the Bank of Utah, which has historically transacted such businesses for various Nigerian entities and Politically Exposed Persons. The jet is registered to the bank, which is also connected to several Nigerian businessmen and politicians.
When ownership of the jet first became public knowledge, Pastor Oristejafor, who is the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, claimed that the jet was a gift from some members of his congregation in Nigeria and elsewhere. The question remains the real person behind the purchase of the jet for Oritsejafor.
A Saharareporters investigation shows that a certain “Moses” who serves as the Managing Director of Oritsejafor business and finances made arrangements to deposit $1 million in escrow account from Oritsejafor prior to the purchase of the jet. The rest of the donors remain shrouded in secrecy.
The pastor was not on the jet on September 5 when it was held in Johannesburg. The two Nigerians and one Israeli man on board however told the South African authorities they were in the country to use the $9.3 million cash to purchase arms on behalf of the Nigerian government, an explanation that has drawn much focus to the involvement of Oritsejafor’s jet in the incident, and led to demands for his arrest and investigation.
SaharaReporters reported in November 2012 that both Governors Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State governor Rotimi Amaechi and Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State both own jets purchased by the same Bank of Utah.
Amaechi’s jet, acquired for his exclusive use as Rivers State governor, is a Bombardier Global 5000 with US registration N565RS, which cost Rivers State $45 million. Akpabio’s private jet, which carries FAA registration number N224BH, cost Akwa Ibom $45 million.
Similarly, the richest pastor in Africa, David Oyedepo, also owns a jet, one of many, that was purchased by the Bank of Utah.
While Ameachi’s jet was grounded by the federal government forseveral years, accused of not having the right paperwork, those of Oritsejafor, Oyedepo and Oritsejafor were not touched even though they carry the same paperwork bought and registered in the US by the Bank of Utah.
The bank has emerged as a key player in many corrupt dealings occurring not just in Nigeria, but in other parts of the world as well. Last April, news broke that a plane registered to the bank was found at Iran’s Mehrabad Airport. The plane in question bore a US flag symbol, which raised international concern because United States business activities are prohibited in Iran.
Although it was later revealed that the plane was being used by a Ghanaian firm, a spokesperson of the Bank of Utah said the bank was acting as a trustee for the real owners. He explained that it acts as a trustee for non-US citizen owners who would otherwise not be able to fly into the US.
Speaking to Al-Monitor at the time of the plane-spotting in Iran, Scott H. Parkinson, the bank’s Senior Vice-President for marketing, said in a statement: “Bank of Utah acts as trustee for aircraft on behalf of the beneficiary,” adding, “The Bank has no operational control or financial exposure and is not a lender for this transaction.”
Mr. Parkinson was quick to point out that the bank’s trust agreements do not allow planes to be used for unlawful means, in line with US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) guidelines.
Attempts by SaharaReporters to reach the bank for comment following the most recent case involving Pastor Oritsejafor’s jet in South Africa showed that the bank was determined to maintain sealed lips on the matter. Brett King, a Vice President at the Bank, and the person who signed the trust for Oritsejafor’s jet, said the company had “no comment.”