Nigerian diplomat not carrying ransom money, investigations on


New Delhi : A day after a senior Nigerian diplomat was caught carrying $2.27 million in his personal luggage while trying to board a flight for Lagos, investigators have yet to establish the reason why he was carrying such huge quantity of cash.

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A joint team of the Income Tax (IT) department and the Enforcement Directorate shot down speculation that the seizure was any in way linked to the kidnapping of two Indians in that country since Saturday by suspected militants.

"So far our investigations have not given us any hint that it was linked to ransom money. But we will get to the bottom of this incident soon," S.S. Khan, the director general of investigations in income tax, told IANS.

Speculation was rife, especially among customs officials at the lower level, whether Captain G.A. Ojedokun, defence adviser to the Nigerian envoy in India, who is a very senior person at the embassy, was carrying the ransom for the two Indians who were kidnapped.

The Indian government has been in constant touch with the Indian high commission in Nigeria hoping for an early release of Sunil Dave and Debashish Kakoty, who were kidnapped Saturday by militants armed with dynamite and machine guns from the oil heartland of Port Harcourt.

"He (envoy) claimed that it was his money that was withdrawn from a bank but that is unconvincing.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 proceeding with our investigation," added Khan.

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

On opening his bag, the intelligence unit of the income tax department found 150 packets stuffed with $100 notes.

"He was catching a flight bound for Lagos, so we are also checking whether it was to be delivered to someone and whether he was acting as a courier," 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 told IANS.

Enforcement officials also hinted that the Nigerian envoy would be slapped with provisions of the Foreign Exchange Management Act as he was not authorized to carry such huge sums.

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

"I am sorry we do not have any comment on this matter and there are no officials who will talk on this," a Nigerian official at the high commission told IANS.

The external affairs ministry said it was trying to get more details. "Being a diplomat, he enjoys diplomatic immunity. Any course of action against him depends on the seriousness of charges against him," an official said.

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 in 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.