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Billionaire Wiese forfeits his suitcase pounds

Court finds cash was associated with “criminality”, Wiese to appeal.

JOHANNESBURG –  Shoprite (JSE:SHP) Chairman Christo Wiese, one of SA’s richest men, who was intercepted by UK Customs with £675 000 in UK bank notes at Heathrow Airport last April, as broken by Moneyweb, was forced to give up the money by Westminster Magistrates on Thursday.

Anyone entering or leaving the UK with more than £1 000 in cash may be asked to provide evidence for the source and intended use of the money or face having it detained, as happened with Wiese.

According to a statement on Thursday from the UK Border Agency, the City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court decided that they were satisfied the cash was associated with criminality and made an order for forfeiture of the cash – £674 920 in total.

Asked about the criminal activities, Wiese said he has no response about that as he has not seen the judgement – “but understand there have been no criminal charges laid”, he added.

When asked in July why he was moving around with such a large sum of cash in his luggage, he said: “For tax and other reasons, I wanted to move the money from my bank in London to Luxembourg.

“It was a straightforward transfer from one European Union (EU) country to another, so there was no reason to declare it. Had I been moving to a non-EU country, I would have had to fill in a form but that was not the case. There will be a hearing in a special court about the recovery of the money. My lawyers are very confident.”  

According to Thursday’s statement from the UK Border Agency, “Wiese was stopped shortly before he was due to board a flight to Luxembourg on April 27 2009. When asked by officers whether he was carrying any cash, Wiese, aged 69 from Johannesburg, responded by saying he had £120 000 in his hand luggage.

“Officers searched a holdall and found the cash in £20 and £50 notes. They then asked City Airport staff to retrieve Wiese’s checked in baggage.

“He was subsequently asked whether his two additional bags contained any more money. Wiese then declared that these contained a further £400 000 – £500 000.

“The UK Border Agency has the power to detain cash under the Proceeds of Crime Act in cases where they suspect that the money originates from or was intended for use in criminal conduct. This is to prevent money gained from suspected criminal activity being hidden overseas or being used to fund future criminal activity.

 “When interviewed at City Airport, Wiese said that he intended to invest the money in banks in Luxembourg. He claimed he had transported the cash out of South Africa in the form of travellers’ cheques to avoid exchange controls there.”

Wiese now has 30 days in which to notify his intention to appeal.

Wiese told Moneyweb on Thursday evening that “indications at this stage are that we will be appealing”.

He added that he wasn’t present, at the court as he felt it wasn’t necessary for him to be there as his lawyer was there on his behalf.

Peter Avery, assistant director of criminal and financial investigation for the UK Border Agency, said:

“The Proceeds of Crime Act was created to take the profit out of crime. Our role is to stop suspicious transfers of cash across borders to make sure criminal money can’t be hidden and that tax cannot be evaded.

“The money we seized in this incident will now be returned to the public purse and used, in part, to investigate other crimes.

Write to Lindo Xulu: lindo@moneyweb.co.za or follow him on twitter 

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