A Nigerian national who was arrested at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) carrying more than Sh100 million in his bag has claimed that the government is only interested in confiscating his money and deporting him afterwards.
In an application seeking the release of the money, Mauzu Bala says he has not been charged with any offence because he hasn’t broken any law. “All the respondent is concerned with is to confiscate my hard-earned money and have me deported,” Mr Bala said in an affidavit.
The Nigerian was detained on December 4 on his way to Dubai while carrying 880,000 US dollars, 60,000 euros and 63,000 Nigerian naira, in his handbag. He had arrived on Kenya Airways flight KQ535 from Lagos, and was waiting for a connecting flight KQ310 to Dubai.
On Tuesday, High Court judge James Wakiaga directed Kenya Airways boss Allan Kilavuka to hand the money to the Assets Recovery Agency for preservation pending conclusion of investigations into the source and purpose of the money.
But in his petition, Mr Bala said he declared the money in Lagos before boarding the flight to Nairobi. “At the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, I declared the currency and was cleared by customs for travel. I checked in the consignment and as is the usual norm in international travels, my next declaration point would have been Dubai International Airport,” he said.
He said he was surprised to be cleared by Kenya Airways back in Lagos with ‘undeclared currency’ only to be pounced on in Nairobi. “The intention at the time could have been only to deprive me of my money,” he said.
The Nigerian further said it was disturbing and surprising how someone knew that he had checked in with money yet he did not disclose the information to anyone save for the Nigerian customs officials.
“It is unethical and I believe some people went through the luggage of all passengers during the lay-over contrary to regulations and international practices hence the current impasse,” he said.
Mr Bala said when he was detained at JKIA, language was a barrier, as he is a Hausa, and that he could not communicate properly with the officials at the airport.
He accused the officials of confiscating all his documents, including the customs clearance forms from Lagos, his passport, currency declaration acknowledgement from Dubai, as well as a declaration letter from Shah Jewellery Trading LLC.
He has attached to the application a letter from Ahammed Shuhaib, a partner of Shah Jewellery, who claims to own the money, to show that he was just an agent.
The High Court on Tuesday allowed the ARA to apply for the funds to be forfeited to the State, if found to be proceeds of crime.
Kenya Airways could not release the customer’s hand luggage without a court order to protect its customer and due to legal implications.
Officials at the airport seized the bulky cash he was carrying in his handbag after he allegedly failed to declare as required by law and show proof of the source of the money.
The ARA said his failure to declare that he was carrying such a huge amount and without a reasonable explanation, or documents to support the legitimacy of the cash, raised suspicion of money laundering.
The Proceeds of Crime and Anti-Money Laundering Act requires a person to declare any amount above $10,000 (approximately Sh1 million).
Mr Bala allegedly told officials at the airport that he was heading to Dubai for business but the agency said banks in Nigeria and Dubai would easily facilitate transfer of money within the two countries.
He allegedly also had no proof of declaration of 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,” Fredrick Musyoki, an investigator attached to the ARA, said.
He said there were reasonable grounds to suspect the funds found in possession of Mr Bala may be a direct or indirect benefit or proceeds of crime obtained from a complex money laundering scheme and were liable to be forfeited to the State under the Proceeds of Crime and Anti-Money Laundering Act.
The Nigerian through lawyer Omondi Ogutu said he was detained at the airport in “in inhuman conditions” with no sleeping facilities, food and bathroom.