He chose the Holiday Inn over luxurious hotels that “feel like mortuaries”, opting to stay there so that he could mingle with his countrymen and women, comprised mostly of Qatari airways crew members.
And the missing millions he had in his hotel room safe were mainly “donations from friends”, as he had brought in a “considerable” amount of cash when entering the country last month.
These were Farid Alshabbar’s words when asked to explain how he managed to get into the country with €500 notes amounting to R1.9 million and still stay at the modest hotel, when Sandton offered a variety of exclusive luxury hotels.
“It’s only a small bundle (of money) that I brought here. I’m a tourist… I spend money. My friends here bring me money too,” said the Jordanian investment banker.
On Wednesday, customs officials met him to establish if he had declared money when entering the country, but SA Revenue Service spokesman Adrian Lackay declined to divulge details of the meeting.
“We met the individual and his consul to try to verify… specifically whether he declared the money upon entering South Africa. (But) we are not allowed by law to make a pronouncement,” said Lackay.
He said also the amount Alshabbar carried “raises questions about the kind of business you want to carry out in this country”.
“There’s no need for anyone to carry such amounts of cash, especially when there is Fica (Financial Intelligence Centre Act). Our banking system is well regulated, (so) you don’t have to carry that much money. Regulations say there are no limits on how much you can bring in, but there is a legal obligation to declare the money,” said Lackay.
Alshabbar, whose money was looted from a “locked” safe in his hotel room on Saturday, said the customs officials “were very nice people… they asked me a couple of questions”.
The Middle East operation director at Wall Street Organisation discovered that his money was missing when he returned to his hotel room an hour after going out for dinner.
The safe was not broken into, causing him to suspect the man he believes to be the hotel’s head of security, who is now on the run from the police.
A porter, whose card is believed to have been used to gain entry into Alshabbar’s room, was expected to make a bail application in the Alexandra Regional Court on Thursday after police caught him with some euros.