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KQ chief ordered to release Sh100m seized from Nigerian

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Kenya Airways chief executive Allan Kilavuka. FILE PHOTO | NMG

A judge has ordered the Kenya Airways CEO to hand over Sh100 million seized from a Nigerian traveller to the Assets Recovery Agency (ARA), pending conclusion of investigations into the source of the money.

Justice James Wakiaga said the funds seized on Friday from Mauzu Bala should be preserved following an application by the ARA.

The court further allowed the agency to apply for the funds to be forfeited to the State if found to be proceeds of crime.

“That an order be and is hereby issued directing the interest party [chief executive officer, Kenya Airways] to surrender the seized funds to the Assets Recovery Agency,” the judge said.

Mr Bala was arrested Friday with the money — in 880,000 US dollars, 60,000 euros and 63,000 Nigerian naira — stacked in his handbag.

The ARA said his failure to disclose that he was carrying such a huge amount of money and produce documents supporting the legitimacy of the cash raised suspicion of money laundering.

Kenya Airways CEO Allan Kilavuka has been holding the cash since Friday, when the Nigerian was arrested the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), enroute to Dubai.

The Nigerian had disembarked from flight KQ535 from Lagos, Nigeria and was intercepted at the transit lounges, while waiting to board flight KQ310 to Dubai.

The airline could not release the customer’s hand luggage stashed with foreign currency because the cargo was under its care and was fretful of legal suit in the event of loss.

When asked why he was carrying such a huge amount, Mr Bala allegedly said he was heading to Dubai for business.

But the ARA holds there are banks in Nigeria and Dubai that allow a customer to transfer money within the two countries.

"That there is an imminent risk that the funds sought to be preserved shall dissipate by virtue of being taken away from the jurisdiction of this court before investigations into the legitimacy of the funds are established as the respondent is a foreigner who was in transit to Dubai," the ARA said in the application.

Section 12 (1) of the Proceeds of Crime and Anti-Money Laundering Act requires a person to declare any amount above $10,000 (approximately Sh1 million).

The Nigerian also had no proof of having declared being in possession of the bulky cash from Nigeria or documentation to support the source, purpose or movement of the cash.

"The threshold for requiring the declaration was not complied as the respondent did not disclose the source of the cash, the business he was doing and the basis of moving with cash of that magnitude," Fedrick Musyoki, a police investigator attached to ARA, said in an affidavit.

"There are reasonable grounds to suspect the funds found in possession of the respondents in cash may be a direct or indirect benefit or proceeds of crime obtained from a complex money laundering scheme and are liable to be forfeited to the state under the Proceeds of Crime and Anti-Money Laundering Act, 2009."

The agency sought to be allowed to hold the money, pending conclusion of investigations and possible application for forfeiture to the State.

On Wednesday, the Directorate Criminal Investigations (DCI) said the cash would be deposited in a Central Bank of Kenya account under ARA.

Anti-corruption lobby Transparency International has termed the Gulf city of Dubai a "money laundering paradise".

Dubai, a global financial centre popular with the well-to-do shoppers and gold dealers, is also a major trading hub.

It has also been seen to attract illicit money.

In June, police in Dubai arrested 12 Nigerian scammers living in the UAE and seized more than $40 million in cash and hard disks containing the addresses of nearly two million victims, in six raids.