Swaziland: Controversial Business Deal Set to Benefit Swaziland Absolute Monarch

King Mswati III of Eswatini disembarks from a plane at Sochi International Airport as he arrives to take part in the 2019 Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi, Russia, 23 October 2019.

King Mswati III, the absolute monarch of Swaziland (eSwatini) is reportedly set to grab more than 90 percent of the shares in some of the kingdom's prestigious hotels.

He will in effect own the Royal Swazi Spa Resort at Ezulwini by taking it into the Tibiyo Taka Ngwane conglomerate that he controls 'on behalf of the Swazi nation'.

Existing shareholders are set to lose their shares, the Swati Newsweek, an online news site, reported. It published a statement from Swazi Spa Holdings Limited confirming this. If successful the King would control 90.3 percent of the shares, at present he holds 39.7 percent.

Newsweek quoted an inside saying, 'Because the company is no longer independent, people who had shares will be removed and another fear is that when Royalty takes over salaries might be reduced. This means that there might be retrenchment.'

The Royal Swazi Spa Resort includes the Lugogo Sun and the Royal Swazi Spa hotels, a convention centre, restaurants bars, and a country club.

The Swazi King's shareholdings are controversial because although he holds the wealth on behalf of the people of Swaziland in practice he uses much of the money to finance his and his family's lavish lifestyles.

In November 2019 he purchased between 13 and 15 luxury Rolls-Royce cars at an estimated cost of up to US$4 million. He also has two private airplanes, at least 13 palaces and fleets of top-of-the-range cars. At his 50th birthday in 2018 he wore a watch worth US$1.6 million and a suit beaded with diamonds that weighed 6 kg. Days earlier he had taken delivery of his second private jet. This one, an Airbus A340, cost US$13.2 to purchase but with VIP upgrades was estimated to have cost US$30 million.

Meanwhile, seven in ten of the 1.1 million population live in abject poverty.

The extent of the King's wealth is a closely-guarded secret. However, in 2009 Forbes magazine estimated that the King himself had a personal net fortune worth US$200 million. Forbes has also said King Mswati was the beneficiary of two funds created by his father Sobhuza II in trust for the Swazi nation. During his reign, he has absolute discretion over use of the income. The trust has been estimated to be worth US$10 billion.

In August 2014 the Sunday Times newspaper in South Africa reported King Mswati personally received millions of dollars from international companies such as phone giant MTN; sugar conglomerates Illovo and Remgro; Sun International hotels and beverages firm SAB Millerto. He continues to receive money from these sources.

The King receives income each year from Tibiyo Taka Ngwane, which is a an investment fund with extensive shares in a number of businesses, industries, property developments and tourism facilities in Swaziland.

The King is the sole trustee of Tibiyo. Neither the King nor Tibiyo pay tax. The annual accounts for 2018 showed total assets were valued at E2.13 billion (US$140 million).

Money generated by Tibiyo is meant to be used for the benefit of the nation, Tibiyo in fact channels money directly to the Royal Family. A report from the United States State Department in 2016 said, 'Tibiyo is run as a private equity investment fund for the benefit of the King and the royal family.

It added, 'This fund is not subject to government or parliamentary oversight.'

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