Tycoon fights for seized millions
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Daily Mail Reporter
An SA billionaire says he should not have been treated with suspicion for trying to board a plane with nearly £700 000 (R9.2 million) in cash – because that amount of money is peanuts to him.
Customs officers seized £674 920 from Christo Wiese at London City Airport in 2009, and a judge later ordered that the money be forfeited as “the proceeds of criminal activity”.
But Wiese, SA’s third-richest man, has launched a high court bid to get the cash back, citing his clean criminal record in the UK and abroad.
His barrister, Clare Montgomery QC, told a court yesterday: “The amount of money was consistent with Dr Wiese’s stated wealth, representing less than two weeks’ income and a minute fraction of his assets.”
Wiese – worth an estimated R39 billion – is the largest single shareholder in Africa’s biggest supermarket group, Shoprite, as well as having investments in mining and wine companies, according to Forbes.
The high court heard that on April 27, 2009 customs officials found £120 000 in his hand luggage as he went to board a flight to Luxembourg, and more than £500 000 in two suitcases he had checked into the hold.
Wiese explained that the money came from diamond deals in SA in the 1980s and 1990s, and had been kept in a safety deposit box at the Ritz hotel because of foreign exchange restrictions in SA, lawyers for the UK Border Agency said.
More than £400 000 was in used notes, bundled together with elastic bands, nearly £7 000 was in Scottish currency and around £5 400 was in a “mutilated” state, the court heard.
Wiese told officials he was going to invest the money in Luxembourg.
However, District Judge Snow, sitting at Westminster Magistrates’ Court the following year, ruled the huge value of the cash and the insecure method of transporting it meant the money should be seized as the proceeds of crime.
Wiese is now challenging that decision at the high court, claiming the UK Border Agency had not a shred of evidence linking him to criminal activity, and his wealth meant it was not suspicious for him to be carrying such a large sum in cash.
Montgomery told the court: “Dr Wiese was a man of good character whose wealth could be traced to legitimate and extensive business activities. There was no evidence he had any criminal associates in the UK or South Africa. Dr Wiese told no lies to the customs officers. He answered their questions without recourse to legal advice. He assisted in the process of questioning without protest at any point.”
The UK Border Agency argued the judge was entitled to make the finding he did on the “startling” facts of the case and considering Wiese had no documentation backing up his account.
Mr Justice Underhill, who will decide whether to quash the ruling and hand back the money, reserved his judgment, which will be given at an unspecified date.– Daily Mail