Maputo, (AIM) – The South African authorities arrested two Mozambicans on Friday who were carrying millions of dollars in banknotes hidden in the back of a pick-up truck.
According to the South African police, the total seized was 4.9 million US dollars, 2.2 million euros and 20,000 South African rands. At current exchange rates, this is equivalent to more than 7.3 million dollars.
The money was hidden in a compartment carefully built in the back of the truck. It would have escaped detection had it not been for an anonymous tip-off to the South African police. Once the police had found the money it took them five hours to count it.
A spokesperson for the South African Revenue Service (SARS), Sandile Memela, said the seizure took place at about 05.40. “The authorities searched the vehicle and found false compartments”, Memela said. “When the driver was questioned, he said they were empty”. But the police opened the compartment and found plastic bags full of money.
The police, who did not reveal the identities of the two men, said this was the largest such seizure in South African history. They promised to work with the Mozambican police to determine whether the two suspects are part of a larger crime syndicate. The men, who said they were driving from Maputo to Johannesburg, are being charged with money-laundering, and they will appear in court in Komatipoort next week.
One of the supposed money-launderers told a reporter from Mozambican Television (TVM) that the money came from the sale of cell phones in Mozambique. But most of the cell phones sold in Mozambique are at the cheaper end of the market, and to generate 7.3 million dollars these men would have needed to sell hundreds of thousands of phones.
Furthermore, they would have been paid in Mozambican currency, meticais. They did not explain how they had changed the meticais into dollars, euros and rands, nor why, if the business was legitimate, they had hidden the money in a special compartment in their vehicle.
Contacted by AIM, the spokesperson for the General Command of the Mozambican police, Inacio Dina, confirmed that the South Africans have indeed informed the Mozambican authorities of the seizure. He added that, on Saturday, a Mozambican police team was sent to South Africa.
“This team will join the South African team to begin the investigations”, said Dina. “The team consists of investigators and experts in the area”.
Asked about the identity of the two suspects, Dina said “They are Mozambican citizens, and from their appearance, they are of Asian descent”.
He said the police do not yet know where the money came from or where the suspects intended to take it. These were matters that the South African and Mozambican investigators would have to follow up.
This is not the first time large amounts of foreign currency have been smuggled out of Mozambique. In December 2010, Mozambican businessman Momed Khalid Ayoob was detained in Swaziland in possession of 18 million rands in banknotes (equivalent to 2.6 million US dollars at the exchange rate of the time).
He admitted that he was taking the money to Dubai. The Swazi authorities confiscated the money, and started criminal proceedings against Ayoob. That case never reached its conclusion because, in April 2012, Ayoob was gunned down by an unidentified assailant outside a mosque in central Maputo.