SOUTH African authorities have seized a million-dollar private jet belonging self-proclaimed prophet Shepherd Bushiri amid claims documents purporting that he used a loan to acquire thee aircraft were fabricated.
Malawi-born Bushiri and his wife, Mary, were earlier this month arrested on allegations of fraud, money laundering and contravening South Africa’s exchange control regulations.
They were later conditionally released from custody on R100,000 bail and are due to return to court in May.
According to a weekend News.24.com report a court order was served on Bushiri for the forfeiture of his $1,25m Gulfstream jet.
The aircraft was attached by the Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU) which is part of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).
“He has 14 days [from February 6] to enter an appearance if he intends to oppose the application for forfeiture,” Hawks spokesman Hangwani Mulaudzi told News24.
“If he fails to enter an appearance [to oppose] in terms of the order or to comply with the requirements, he will not be given notice of the application for a forfeiture order and will not be entitled to appear at the hearing of the application,” he said.
Investigations into Bushiri’s acquisition of the aircraft were launched last year.
He reportedly claimed that funds used to secure the aircraft were obtained from a $1,25m loan from Joint Aviation Resources LLC (JAR) and that he paid the money back.
An investigator from South African Reserve Bank (SARB) then requested bank statements. But he was unable to trace any transactions that matched the amount.
According to News24.com, it was then concluded that Bushiri might have provided false information to the department about how he obtained the funds.
But in his affidavit, Bushiri disputed the allegations.
He maintained that the reports were not only factually untrue but they were also “malicious as they are intended and designed to tarnish my good image”.
“I have never exported funds (except for the nominal amounts admissible in terms of the foreign exchange control) or gold from the Republic.
“All the relevant times when I travel from the Republic, the South African Police and immigration authorities conducted a thorough check on my person and all those accompanying me, which in itself would negate any export of funds or gold in that sense,” he said in the affidavit.
Bushiri added that his ministry acquired the Gulfstream from the National Airways Corporation at a price of $1,25m. He said the funds for the payment of the aircraft were secured by a loan from Joint Aviation Resources.
“The ministry repaid the funds in South Africa to [JAR]. The source of the repayment of the loan to JAR was church donations to the ministry. JAR will be in a position to provide proof that it was fully paid,” he said.
Investigators also interviewed Sabine Stefanie Kruger, a director at JAR.
She alleged that she had never seen the loan agreement and did not have any knowledge of such an agreement.
The signature on the agreement indicates a possible resemblance to that of her husband, who resigned from his directorship in 2017.
Kruger stated in her affidavit that JAR was neither authorised nor permitted to deal in US dollars or any foreign currency.
“The receipts are false as JAR [does] not issue receipts at all. JAR only issues invoices to customers,” she told investigators.
According to Kruger, the company never received the payments as indicated on the receipts. She also stated that she had never met Bushiri and that JAR didn’t do any business with him.
Kruger’s husband, Henry, also told investigators that he did not recognise the loan agreement.
“I also dispute my signature on the said document. The receipts shown to me are also fabricated as JAR do not issue such documents,” Henry said in his affidavit.
Investigators concluded that it was evident that Bushiri “intentionally and falsely presented” to the SARB that the money he used to buy the aircraft originated from JAR.
The investigator in the matter said although he was not a handwriting expert, he compared Kruger’s signature as reflected on the purported loan agreement with his signature on his affidavit.
“It is evident that on the face of it, these signatures differ,” reads the affidavit.
“In addition, both Sabine and Kruger confirm that the receipts provided by Bushiri to create the impression that the loan amount was repaid to JAR are false. JAR does not issue receipts at all. JAR only issues invoices to customers.
“It is evident that in an attempt to explain the origin of the funds, the loan agreement was fabricated. It is submitted that the aircraft was bought under highly questionable circumstances.”
News24 tried to get hold Bushiri’s lawyer Terrance Baloyi and despite promising to get back to us, he didn’t reply to follow-up phone calls and text messages.