Mbabane -Swaziland’s King Mswati III’s personal jet has been impounded in Canada by order of a Canadian court for settlement of R35 million, part of the R1.6bn a businessman claims the monarch owes him.

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The plane was in Canada for maintenance when businessman Shanmuga Rethenam petitioned to have the asset seized.

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Rethenam’s firm, Southern Africa Resources Limited (Sarl), is suing Mswati for R1.6bn in damages for the closure, without Sarl’s consent, of a mining operation in Swaziland.

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Sarl claims its partners in the venture, Mswati and the Swazi government, liquidated the company so the king wouldn’t have to repay a R10m personal loan taken from the mining operation.

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“It is important that we understand that we are a unique nation and we have a monarchical democracy which we all have a duty to protect and rally behind our king,” Minister of Justice Sibusiso Shongwe, a Mswati appointee, said to Parliament on Friday when his government finally conceded the plane’s seizure.

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Shongwe was attempting damage control because the government had kept the plane’s attachment secret for more than two months.

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iol nws nov 20 King Mswati

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The acknowledgement of the impoundment was forced into the open after the local media questioned why Mswati had travelled to Japan last week in a leased aircraft.

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“Around January 10, we received correspondence from the company that was servicing the plane, informing us there was a court order which instructed the attachment of the plane,” a nervous Jabulile Mashwama, the acting Minister of Foreign Affairs, told MPs in a session shown on Swazi TV news.

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When Mswati acquired the McDonnell Douglas DC9 twin-engine jet in 2012, the donor was reported by an investigative Swazi website to be Rethenam’s firm, which was then beginning mining operations with the permission of the king.

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Mswati reportedly stood to earn R100m from the operation.

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The government identified the jet’s donor only as “a development partner”.

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Rethenam would’ve known the jet would have to go to Canada for servicing, if the plane had been a gift from his company.

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The government has banned the publication of photographs of the aircraft, just as photography of Mswati’s fleet of luxury cars is proscribed.

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Mashwama admitted the Canadian courts had followed the law in ordering the jet’s confiscation. Nevertheless, MPs, some of whom are Mswati appointees, and the Swazi Senate, two-thirds of which is appointed by the king, are spitting fire at Canada.

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MPs accuse Canada of violating Swaziland’s national sovereignty by confiscating a national asset.

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They claim the king and all his possessions are covered by diplomatic immunity.

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No parliamentary action has been proposed, other than sending a caucus of MPs, at Swazi taxpayers’ expense, on a trip to Canada to ask Canadian citizens how they feel about what one senator called “the hijacking” of the king’s plane.

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But the group may encounter Canadians familiar with Mswati.

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This week the Toronto-based free expression advocacy group Ifem became the latest Canadian human rights group to criticise the lack of democracy under Mswati.

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The Sunday Independent