State ordered to release Sh100m seized from Nigerian in 2020

Bala was arrested at the JKIA while carrying USD 88,000, approximately Sh100 million. [iStockphoto]

An anti-corruption has ordered the government to release more than Sh100 million seized from a Nigerian national in 2020 at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) in Nairobi.

Justice Esther Maina said there was no evidence the money Mauzu Bala had inside his bag when he landed at the airport was proceeds of crime.

She said the money had been declared at the point of exit in Lagos, Nigeria, as required.

Since the man was on transit, Justice Maina said, he was required to declare the money at the point of entry, which is Dubai.

Consequently, the judge dismissed a case by the Asset Recovery Agency (ARA) against Bala, accusing it of failing to seek information from authorities in Nigeria and the United Arab Emirate to ascertain whether the man was engaging in money laundering or if the money he had in his bag were proceeds of crime.

“In this case, there was no complaint or request from the Federal Republic of Nigeria or the United Arab Emirates nor has the agency liaised with authorities in the said countries to ascertain the authenticity or otherwise of the respondent’s (Bala) documents,” said Justice Maina.

She added: “In light of the foregoing, I find that the originating motion dated March 16, 2021, lacks merit and it is hereby dismissed. The seized funds should be released to the respondent forthwith. It is so ordered.”

Bala was arrested at the JKIA while carrying USD 88,000, approximately Sh100 million. 

He was flying Kenya Airways Flight No. KQ 535 from Lagos when he was intercepted at the central screen area within JKIA. He was on transit to Dubai.

Asked why he was carrying so much money in his bag, Bala said he was heading to Dubai for business. ARA raised a red flag over the source of money. In court, the agency argued that the explanation Bala gave was suspicious as he would have simply wired the money from Nigeria to Dubai.

The agency said Bala did not avail documents to prove he had declared the cash in Nigeria and did not have anything to show the source of the money.

The court heard that ARA interviewed Bala two times to ascertain the source of the money. On December 4, 2020, the agency said Bala told its investigators that the money was given to him by unnamed persons to buy gold, memory cards and mobile phones.

ARA told the court that Bala had told them that the money belonged to his boss in Dubai, one Alhaji, who carries cash because it is expensive to exchange dollars in Dubai. He also told them that he'd declared the money in Nigeria only that he was not given a receipt as the same was captured in the system.

The agency's investigators further told the court that they were surprised when Bala was unable to recall his boss’s mobile number.

ARA said it also interviewed one Nwachukwu Chikezie Augustine who stated that he works with Abyad Global Venture Jewellery at Ikeja Lagos State and that the money belonged to their boss, one Alhaj-Lawal Awulu, who was in Dubai at the time. He said Bala was just a carrier for the money.

Kenya Airways surrendered the money to the Central Bank of Kenya on December 11, 2020.

In his reply, Bala asked the court to dismiss the case saying investigations of his movements and travel history did not yield anything suspicious.

He said there is no law that bars an individual from carrying money in cash as long as it is declared at the points of entry and exit.

According to him, the mode of transmitting cash is an individual’s choice based on their convenience.

Bala said he declared the money at Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Nigeria and provided documentation demonstrating the same to Kenyan authorities when he was intercepted.

The man said he presented a customs clearance from Lagos, currency-declaration acknowledgement from Dubai and a letter from Shah Jewellery Trading LLC.

The faulted ARA for failure to confirm from Lagos whether the documents he presented were genuine or not.

Also, Bala denied participating in any interview. He said the transcripts presented by ARA do not meet the threshold of a confession. He said there was no evidence that he participated in any interview process.

The Nigerian said he was only in Nairobi for a connecting flight noting there was nothing irregular about it.

And in her ruling, Justice Maina said: "Having carefully considered the material placed before me, my finding is that the applicant has not discharged the burden placed upon it by law to prove that the funds were proceeds of crime or were to be used in the commission of an offence."