Nigerian diplomat let off, cash seized


New Delhi : A Nigerian diplomat caught here with $2.27 million before boarding a flight for Lagos has been released but Indian authorities have seized the money, officials said Tuesday.

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"Further investigations are in progress and a final report is awaited," external affairs ministry spokesperson Navtej Sarna said.

Captain G.A. Ojedokun, the defence attache at the Nigerian high commission, was detained and interrogated by the income tax department Monday at the Indira Gandhi International Airport when he was to board an Ethiopian Airlines plane.

The diplomat was interrogated under a search and seizure warrant issued by the income tax department which led to the seizure of $2.27 million in cash from his person and his baggage, the spokesperson said.

In his statement, however, Ojedokun disclosed that he was carrying about $1.5 million in his check-in baggage, Sarna said.

"Ojedokun cooperated in the proceedings and a statement was recorded under oath. He was thereafter permitted to leave the airport," he added.

Investigators are hard at work trying to establish the reason why the diplomat had so much money on him.

A joint team of the income tax department and Enforcement Directorate shot down speculation that the money or its seizure was anyway linked to the kidnapping of two Indians in Nigeria by suspected militants.

"Our investigations have not given us any hint that it is linked to ransom money. But we will get to the bottom of this soon," S.S. Khan, the director general of income tax (investigations), told IANS.

"He (envoy) claimed that it was his money that was withdrawn from a bank but that is unconvincing. For now, we have seized the money and are proceeding with our investigation," added Khan.

Ojedokun was detained Monday in what was said to be the biggest cash haul at the New Delhi airport. His bag aroused suspicion when it passed through the X-ray scanner.

On opening his bag, 150 packets stuffed with $100 notes were found.

"He was catching a flight for Lagos, so we are also checking whether it was to be delivered to someone," said an Enforcement official.

"We have no power to keep him in custody as he enjoys diplomatic immunity but we have our ways to find out what this money was for. Obviously, he was carrying so much money that it was bound to cause suspicion," an official of the Enforcement Directorate said.

The Nigerian high commission was tight-lipped over the incident. It refused to comment why a senior diplomat had $2.27 million in his bag.

Indian authorities are exploring various angles, including a possible connection between Nigerian officials and a flourishing drug syndicate involving Nigerians.

Another angle being pursued is that it may be protection money paid by Indian companies operating in Nigeria.

Separately, three Nigerians were arrested at the same airport Monday, before they were to fly out of India, for allegedly cheating many people here in a lottery scam.

The three were identified as Obinna Emmaeml, Okey Ammezi and Ubagu Austin. Delhi Police's Crime Branch made the arrests.