R6m smuggling ruse using ‘airtime’ was a bad call
SARS and customs officials come down hard on importer for trying to pull the wool over their eyes
A businessman’s ruse to wrest back R6m from the state by spinning a story about cellphone airtime turned out to be a bad call. Instead, Petro Sibusiso Khanyile has been left with a hefty legal bill for a saga that starts like a movie.
On October 21 2016, Nabeel Mohamed Aboo flew from Durban to Cape Town International Airport, intending to board a flight to Dubai. But during a routine check, police found more than R6m in his three black suitcases.
The 24-year-old said the money belonged to his boss but refused to reveal his name. His lawyer arrived immediately. Aboo undertook to assist police with their investigation into the origin of the money and was released. Then he vanished without trace.
Enter Khanyile one year later. His company, Five Star Import and Export, claimed ownership of the money and launched a Cape Town High Court application for its return.
In court papers, Khanyile claimed his company imported agricultural tools and other hardware from various suppliers “in the East, mainly in China”. He said he sold the goods in SA and his customers paid him in cash. He said he preferred dealing in cash because it enabled him to “expeditiously conclude business deals without delays often caused by bank transfers when substantial sums of money are involved”.
Khanyile said, following the advice of other businessmen, he decided to buy and sell airtime with the money. He said he arranged to purchase MTN airtime vouchers from the cellphone giant’s store in Canal Walk, Cape Town, and gave Aboo, a friend and former neighbour, the money so that he could hand it over to an acquaintance in Cape Town.
“In order to utilise the cash as soon as possible to generate further profit, I … decided that [my company] would purchase prepaid cellular phone airtime which could be sold by [the company] within a short period and which would generate quick profit for the [company], hence allowing the [company] to spin the cash quickly, thereby generating additional cash flow/income,” said Khanyile.
But the prosecution lodged a counter-application to seize the millions, pointing out that while Khanyile claimed R6,000,960, police seized R6,175,150 from Aboo.
Nicolaas van Zyl, a deputy director of public prosecutions, said: “Five Star in fact is unsure as to the amount of money seized, yet they claim ownership over the cash.
“The discrepancy with regard to the amount of cash seized is further corroborated by the affidavit deposed to and signed by Khanyile … Surely if one entrusts someone to transport such a large sum of cash you have to have known the amount sent.”
The prosecution’s investigation established that Khanyile is not registered with the SA Revenue Service for income tax and VAT, and that Five Star had failed to submit tax returns from the date of its registration.
Van Zyl said Aboo could not afford overseas tickets but had travelled overseas 11 times during 2016. He said Aboo was set to travel a route known for terror financing and his actions were indicative of a terror-financing courier travelling from SA to the Middle East.
Last month Judge Andre le Grange ordered that the money be forfeited to the state and ordered Khanyile to pay the legal costs.
“To this end, Khanyile has annexed more than 200 pages of documents to substantiate the claim that Five Star has purchased and paid customs duty on various goods imported from India and China. Khanyile also stated that that it had paid all its customs and excise duty on these goods and had currently no liability to SARS,” said Le Grange.
“Sadly, all of the paper produced by Khanyile lacked one fundamental truth, and that is it fails to establish real ownership of the amount of monies found in possession of Aboo.”
This week Khanyile’s lawyers said he intended to appeal. “Please note that our client will be taking the matter on appeal,” said Bianca Seekola, a candidate attorney at the law firm. “We have no further comment at this stage.”
• SARS custom officials bust a female South African student destined for Hong Kong with R10m worth of US dollars in her luggage last week. In a statement, SARS said: “The flight was due to leave when the officers intercepted the passenger on the flight. The passenger, a South African female student who had boarded with two bags as hand luggage, was then alighted with her luggage.” The officials registered a criminal case of smuggling currency and failure to declare.