The private jet of Swaziland King Mswati III was impounded for non-payment of debts in Canada because he allegedly went back on his promise to pay the bill for refurbishing it.
And, after three years of misinformation from the Swaziland Government it has been revealed that the plane, which was given to the King in 2012 as a birthday present, was donated by Salgaocar, the company that had been granted a licence to mine iron ore at Ngwenya in Swaziland.
A South African newspaper, the Sunday Independent estimated the cost of refurbishment to be 35 million Rand (about US$3.5 million).
Details are emerging that a company called SG Air Leasing, which is connected with Shanmuga Rethenam, popularly known as Shan, paid for the Douglas DC-9 jet to be refurbished before the King took delivery.
Shanmuga Rethenam is also connected with Salgaocar.
A source close to the deal said the King chose to outfit his plane lavishly with the promise to pay the cost and then he went back on his word and refused to discuss the matter.
The source also said, ‘The aircraft is owned by the King’s personal company called Inchatsavane Company (Proprietary) Limited, Inchatsavane signed an aircraft management agreement with Gainjet SA (Greece). The operating cost of the aircraft is only US$8,000 to US$10,000 depending on the airport it flies to but the Government of Swaziland is paying US$15,000 and the profit goes to the King.’
The jet, an updated Douglas DC-9, has a controversial history. It was reportedly given to the King as a birthday gift in 2012. The King and the Swazi Government refused to disclose who gave the plane, saying they were development partners of Swaziland who wanted to remain anonymous.
At the time it was reported, but neither confirmed nor denied, that the jet was a gift from Salgaocar (now known as SG Iron Ore Mining), a company that had recently been awarded a contract by the King to mine for iron ore at Ngwenya.
The mine was forced to cease trading in August 2014 after a series of events orchestrated by Sihle Dlamini, who is Director Administration at the King’s Office and Assistant Private Secretary to the King. He was also the King’s personal representative on the SG Iron board of directors. Shanmuga Rethenam was the Executive Chairman of the Board of Directors of SG Iron.
A compensation claim for at least US$141 million was prepared by Southern Africa Resources Ltd (SARL), which had a 50 percent stake in SG Iron Ore Mining, against the Kingdom of Swaziland at the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).
In a letter to Swaziland Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini, dated 8 January 2015, Shanmuga Rethenam said he was dedicated to Swaziland and had taken a number of actions to demonstrate this.
Among the actions he listed,
‘Providing funding for the purchase of HMK’s [His Majesty the King’s] aircraft after Kuwait failed to provide the full purchase price;
‘Proving funding for the aircraft interior cost overrun. I had to deal with the maintenance facility for the interior conversion and had to pay for the overrun cost and providing HMK with replacement aircraft/s during this period.’
A court in Canada impounded the aircraft in December 2014, but the fact has only just been made public.
On Friday (27 March 2015) a court in Canada ordered the release of the plane on a technicality. The plane had been ‘arrested’ under the Repair and Storage Lien Act but Judge Dow ruled that SG Air Leasing was not a ‘repairer’ even though there was evidence that SG Air Leasing had paid for the repairs.
The plane remains held in Canada pending an appeal on the decision.
SWAZI KING’S JET HELD FOR UNPAID DEBTS