Indebted Swazi king goes big on new jet

Mbabane – King Mswati III of Swaziland need not worry that his private jet is impounded in Canada for unpaid bills, as he reportedly plans to buy a more luxurious aircraft.

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Copy of st KING mSWATI

Mswati III, the king of Swaziland, owes a Canadian company millions for renovations to his current jet, according to investigative website Swazi Media Commentary. Picture: Ray Stubblebine

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The Swazi media and MPs in parliament have started a push to use public money for the jet, a used Airbus A340.

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“The deal is expected to be completed this month but the plane will be taken for refits and upgrades and might not be ready to fly for another year. The value is expected to rise once refurbishments have been completed,” former University of Swaziland journalism professor Richard Rooney wrote on Wednesday on his website, Swazi Media Commentary.

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The well-regarded website is used by Swazi whistle-blowers to expose the secret dealings of Mswati’s government.

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Mswati’s current jet was extensively renovated with luxurious trappings, according to Canadian court papers filed by SG Air.

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The jet was in Canada for repairs when SG Air sought the aircraft’s impoundment in December after Mswati reneged on a promise to repay SG Air more than $4 million spent on remodelling.

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The lawsuit filed by SG Air against Mswati’s company, Inchatsavane, which owns the private jet, states that while the aircraft was being remodelled, SG Air paid $1m to lease a CRJ 200 jet for the king’s travels.

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However, SG Air ended up paying more than $2m to lease a grander Legacy 600 aircraft when “His Majesty the king was not satisfied with the CRJ 200 as it had only one toilet on board and was therefore very inconvenient”.

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SG Air stated in its lawsuit that the cost of the leased aircraft was never repaid.

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Swazi MPs condemned the seizure of the king’s jet in Canada on the grounds that Mswati has diplomatic immunity.

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However, the lawsuit was filed against Inchatsavane, a company for which Mswati is the sole shareholder.

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Shanmuge Rethenam, a director of SG Air, is also a director of SARL, which is demanding $144m from Mswati personally over the closure of an iron ore mine in Swaziland.

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SARL operated the mine in partnership with Mswati and the Swazi government, and says the king had the business liquidated rather than repay a $10m personal loan given to him from the mine’s assets.

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Rooney reported that the Swiss aviation brokerage company LFV AG said of the king’s new larger jet: “The aircraft will be undergoing completion and refit work, which will be done by either Avinor Canada or EAS France.

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“Industry insiders say the refurbishment costs could be more than anticipated, depending on the degree of luxury. Plans are already being drawn up to build a state room, a lounge and a royal lavatory on the aircraft. Similar planes with ‘VIP’ upgrades of their interior are being offered for sale for $44m,” Rooney said.