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Shoprite Billionaire Busted Smuggling $1 million Cash

By on July 15, 2012

Meet Christo Wiese. The 70-year-old is South Africa’s third richest person, worth $3.1 billion thanks to his shares in the African continent’s biggest retailer, low-price supermarket chain Shoprite.

Wiese’s travel woes couldn’t be further from the quotidian vanishing iPad. He’s facing a legal fight to recover over $1 million confiscated by customs officers because he was traveling with that huge sum in cold, hard cash bundled up in rubber bands in his luggage.

As the UK’s Daily Mail reported from London’s High Court, the billionaire tried to board a flight from England to Luxembourg in 2009 with two checked suitcases and one carry-on bag stuffed with a combined £674,920 — just over $1 million — in bills.

Says the Mail:

Dr. Wiese explained the money came from diamond deals in South Africa in the 80s and 90s, and had been kept in a safety deposit box in the Ritz hotel because of foreign exchange restrictions in his homeland, lawyers for the UK Border Agency said.

The UK justice system didn’t buy this explanation. A judge ordered that the money be seized under the assumption that it must be the proceeds of crime given Wiese’s unorthodox transportation method.

Wiese is now appealing this decision. His lawyer justifies his $1 million travel stash as completely in line with his vast wealth. As the Mail reported from court, barrister Clare Montgomery said: “The amount of money was consistent with Dr. Wiese’s stated wealth, representing less than two weeks’ income and a minute fraction of his assets.”

For the rest of us, two weeks’ income might amount to a few thousand bucks if we’re lucky. For Wiese, it’s the equivalent of a New York condo, all squashed into three suitcases.