Swaziland’s King Mswati III’s personal jet has been impounded in Canada by order of a Canadian court for settlement of R35 million, part of the R1.6bn a businessman claims the monarch owes him.
The plane was in Canada for maintenance when businessman Shanmuga Rethenam petitioned to have the asset seized.
Rethenam’s firm, Southern Africa Resources Limited (Sarl), is suing Mswati for R1.6bn in damages for the closure, without Sarl’s consent, of a mining operation in Swaziland.
Sarl claims its partners in the venture, Mswati and the Swazi government, liquidated the company so the king wouldn’t have to repay a R10m personal loan taken from the mining operation.
“It is important that we understand that we are a unique nation and we have a monarchical democracy which we all have a duty to protect and rally behind our king,” Minister of Justice Sibusiso Shongwe, a Mswati appointee, said to Parliament on Friday when his government finally conceded the plane’s seizure.
Shongwe was attempting damage control because the government had kept the plane’s attachment secret for more than two months.
The acknowledgement of the impoundment was forced into the open after the local media questioned why Mswati had travelled to Japan last week in a leased aircraft.
“Around January 10, we received correspondence from the company that was servicing the plane, informing us there was a court order which instructed the attachment of the plane,” a nervous Jabulile Mashwama, the acting Minister of Foreign Affairs, told MPs in a session shown on Swazi TV news.
When Mswati acquired the McDonnell Douglas DC9 twin-engine jet in 2012, the donor was reported by an investigative Swazi website to be Rethenam’s firm, which was then beginning mining operations with the permission of the king.
Mswati reportedly stood to earn R100m from the operation.
The government identified the jet’s donor only as “a development partner”.
Rethenam would’ve known the jet would have to go to Canada for servicing, if the plane had been a gift from his company.
The government has banned the publication of photographs of the aircraft, just as photography of Mswati’s fleet of luxury cars is proscribed.
Mashwama admitted the Canadian courts had followed the law in ordering the jet’s confiscation. Nevertheless, MPs, some of whom are Mswati appointees, and the Swazi Senate, two-thirds of which is appointed by the king, are spitting fire at Canada.
MPs accuse Canada of violating Swaziland’s national sovereignty by confiscating a national asset.
They claim the king and all his possessions are covered by diplomatic immunity.
No parliamentary action has been proposed, other than sending a caucus of MPs, at Swazi taxpayers’ expense, on a trip to Canada to ask Canadian citizens how they feel about what one senator called “the hijacking” of the king’s plane.
But the group may encounter Canadians familiar with Mswati.
This week the Toronto-based free expression advocacy group Ifem became the latest Canadian human rights group to criticise the lack of democracy under Mswati.
The Sunday Independent