The official airplane of Swaziland’s King Mswati III has been impounded in Canada over a disputed debt, Reuters reported on Thursday (May 18). This is the second time the king’s jet has been detained in Canada.
Mswati’s former business partner, Singaporean entrepreneur Shanmuga Rethenam, had the plane detained through Canadian courts in a bid to freeze the king’s assets and reclaim $8 million he says the African royal owes him. The king denies owing Rethenam any money.
Rethenam says he sold Mswati the McDonnell Douglas DC-9-87 in 2010 and then paid $6.5 million for refurbishing and refinancing it. When first announcing the arrival of the lavishly outfitted jet to the Swazi public, the king’s spokesman described it as a gift.
Last year, Rethenam had the plane impounded for four months in Canada until the king agreed to surrender $3.5 million. This time, Reuters reports, Rethenam has obtained what he calls a “worldwide freezing order” from a judge in the British Virgin Islands, where his aviation firm is registered. The plane is being held in Ontario, where it was sent for service.
Back in southern Africa, a Swaziland prosecutor has charged Rethenam with misappropriating funds related to a Swazi mining venture. Rethenam has been ordered to appear in the Swazi High Court by June 30. Prosecutors said the charges have nothing to do with the debt dispute.
The Singaporean entrepreneur and the Swazi king weren’t always at odds. Court papers revealed that Rethenam referred to the king as “HMK” (His Majesty, the King) and Swazi newspapers report that Rethenam was known locally as just “Shan.” The two fell out over an iron-ore mining venture from 2011 to 2014. A dispute led to the mine’s liquidation and 700 employees losing their jobs.
Meanwhile, reports allege that Mswati plans to buy a second, much larger private plane.
Swaziland, Africa’s last absolute monarchy, has a GDP of $4.4 billion, with nearly two-thirds of its 1.3 million people living below the poverty line.