King Mswati III of Swaziland enters into business contracts which he does not honour and it is impossible to get him to do so because he is above the law in his own kingdom.
That is the picture that is emerging in a court in Ontario, Canada, where the King’s personal luxury jet has been impounded in a business dispute over an alleged unpaid bill of US$3.5 million.
The King’s jet was attached by the court in Canada in January 2015 while it was in Goderich, Ontario, for routine maintenance. It has been held ever since.
Attachment is a legal process by which a court of law, at the request of a person who is owed money, requires property owned by the person who owes the money to be transferred to the person who is owed the money, or sold for the benefit of the person who is owed the money.
SG Air Leasing, the company allegedly owed the money, told the Ontario Court of Appeal on 9 April 2015 that the jet had to be attached and the case had to be resolved outside of Swaziland because no court in Swaziland would hear a case against the King.
In papers presented to the court, King Mswati was described as an ‘absolute monarch’.
The dispute involves the cost of renovating the King’s McDonnell Douglas DC-9 jet (also known as an MD-87) in 2012. The Ontario Court of Appeal was told that SG Air paid more than US$4.4 million for repairs and modifications to the jet. The jet itself had cost US$9.5 million.
SG Air said it paid the costs on behalf of Inchatsavane, a company described as a ‘shell corporation’ set up by King Mswati to purchase the jet. King Mswati was described as Inchatsavane’s ‘sole shareholder’.
SG Air said the arrangement was for Inchatsavane to repay it the money spent on repairs and modifications. When the King failed to pay, private negotiations took place and allegedly the King agreed to pay US$3.5 million in ‘full and final settlement’ of the debt.
When the King also failed to pay this money, SG Air successfully applied for the courts in Canada to attach the jet and this was done on 13 January 2015.
The Court of Appeal was told that under s11 of the Swaziland Constitution the King was immune from any suit or legal process ‘in any cause in respect of all things done or omitted to be done by him’.
The Constitution was further reinforced by an explicit practice directive issued by the Swazi Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi on 16 June 2011 which stated that immunity applied for any claims made indirectly against the King.
SG Air said in court papers said it saw ‘no prospect of any foreign judgement obtained against HMK [His Majesty the King] or Inchatsavane being enforced by a court in Swaziland’.
The King’s representatives asked the court to release the jet.
SG Air said in court papers that if the jet was ready for flight and if it was released it would ‘depart immediately and SG Air will have no prospect of enforcing a Canadian judgement against Inchatsavane in Swaziland’.
The jet remains in Canada and the case continues in the Court of Appeal. A further hearing is anticipated in May 2015.
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