Johannesburg - Was the R78 million in cash confiscated at OR Tambo International on its way to fund international organisations linked to terror? That’s the question several agencies are probing, including the South African Revenue Service (Sars), the Hawks and the intelligence services.
The money was seized from five individuals who were booked on a flight to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.
The money – R23m and $3.77m in banknotes – was stashed in 12 pieces of luggage, including four backpacks.
Two sources, independent of each other, have said the agencies believe the money was on its way to Pakistan. They also believe some of the money was destined for the self-proclaimed Islamic State (Isis).
It is believed that South Africa has asked other foreign services to help with investigations, although nobody would officially say so.
When the five men were stopped at OR Tambo on August 28, Sars released a statement saying: “The five passengers were scheduled to depart South Africa on United Arab Emirates flight EK 766 to Dubai.
“Risk profiling earlier by Sars custom officials identified the passengers and led to their apprehension as they boarded the aircraft.
“Upon noticing the Sars officials, the passengers retreated and headed back to the entrance of the boarding gate.
“At this point, the officials closed the boarding gate door and the passengers were compelled to wait for the Sars officials.
“When questioned by Sars on whether they were in possession of any currency, one of the passengers, speaking on behalf of the group, stated that he had R100 000 and that the other individuals also had currency.
“The five individuals were escorted back to immigration at international arrivals, booked back into South Africa and escorted to customs.”
The money was sealed and handed to the South African Reserve Bank for further investigation.
The men were not charged.
Sars spokesman Luther Lebelo said this week that all five men were South Africans and police took down only their identity and passport details.
“They will remain in the country as the Reserve Bank investigates whether they should be criminally charged,” he said.
“They have been released because we couldn’t open a criminal case.
“It first had to be determined by the South African Reserve Bank on whether this money was fit or whether it was criminal money.”
Lebelo said the matter was in the hands of the Reserve Bank and the Hawks.
Hawks spokesman Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi confirmed the investigation.
He also confirmed that the State Security Agency had been roped into the investigation.
He said meetings had been held by the parties concerned.
He could not divulge further details because the investigation was at a “sensitive stage”.
He confirmed that intelligence services were also probing the matter.
The Iraqi ambassador to South Africa, Dr Hisham al-Alawi, said he was not surprised that it was thought the confiscated money could have been destined for Isis.
“There has been increasing activity in South Africa with regards to recruitment and fund-raising for Isis.
“We are always receiving information about people who are joining. It could also be a possibility that those returning are being sent back to recruit or fund-raise. It is something we must be wary of.
“We know there are people sympathetic to them in South Africa and that there are groups who could be financing them.”
Last week, reports gave details of 11 South Africans who had returned from territory controlled by Isis.
The 11 claimed they had travelled there as aid workers.