A billionaire who had almost £700,000 in cash seized by the authorities at London City Airport has won back the money from the United Kingdom Border Agency (UKBA).
Dr Christoffel Wiese, South Africa's third richest man, argued that the £674,920 in used bank notes that was discovered in his luggage was less than two weeks' income to him.
Officials seized the cash and a District Judge later ordered its forfeiture after ruling that it was probably derived from criminal money laundering.
However, a judge at the High Court has now ordered UKBA to hand back the money after ruling that there was no evidence to support that finding.
Dr Wiese, who is worth an estimated £3 billion, is the largest single shareholder in Africa's Shoprite supermarket chain and has investments in mining and wine companies, according to Forbes.
He was stopped by border officers in April 2009 when a security check uncovered £120,000 in his hand luggage and a further search unearthed more than £500,000 in two bags that he had checked into the hold, the judge said.
Dr Wiese told officers that the money came from "diamond deals" completed some years earlier and had been kept in a safety deposit box at London's Ritz hotel. He was en route to Luxembourg, where he said that he intended to invest the money before returning to London on the same day.
The District Judge ordered the forfeiture of the money in 2010 after finding that, ‘on the balance of probabilities’, the cash came from criminal money laundering.
Challenging that decision at the High Court, Dr Wiese's barrister, Clare Montgomery QC, said that the cash was not a very large sum to a man who earns £25 million-a-year and represented only a ‘minute fraction’ of his overall wealth.
Mr Justice Underhill revoked the District Judge's order after ruling that it was ‘unreasonable’ to force Dr Wiese to give up the money.
The judge said: ‘It is unlikely that a businessman of previous good character, already enormously rich from legitimate business, would become involved in money laundering.
‘The fact is that the court was told absolutely nothing which rendered it likely that Dr Wiese was engaged in money laundering, save for the fact of his possession and attempt to take out of the country a very large sum of used notes.
‘As to that, there was an explanation which, although not credited, was plausible and, in my judgment, more plausible’.
The judge added: ‘It may be, in cases where people are found carrying large sums of cash at the airport, that there will be circumstances, including their refusal to explain their conduct or lies told about the origin and purpose of the cash, which will render an inference that the cash was obtained by money laundering legitimate.
‘But, in the present case, there were no such circumstances and an entirely plausible alternative explanation was put forward.’
UKBA will now have to return the money along with interest accrued on it since it was seized more than three years ago.