WASHINGTON - Somalia and United Arab Emirates have exchanged barbs over the seizure of millions of dollars from a plane chartered by Emirati diplomats to transport the cash to Mogadishu.
The Somali government seized three bags containing $9.6 million on Sunday and says it only took the action after the UAE ambassador refused to let the bags containing the cash be scanned.
“If a ‘diplomatic bag’ is used to deliver illegal articles such as weapons, cash, then the bag is violable,” says a senior government official speaking with VOA Somali on condition of anonymity.
But Tuesday, UAE’s Foreign Ministry condemned the seizure of the money, which it says was for the support of the Somali army.
The statement alleged Somali security forces “assaulted” and held those on board the plane “at gunpoint.” “The action is an illegal step that contradicts the established diplomatic norms,” read the statement.
It said the move by the Somali government was a “serious breach” to a Memorandum of Understanding signed by the two countries in November 2014.
Meanwhile, the Somali government rejected the condemnation by UAE and says no breach of diplomatic protocol occurred.
The senior Somali official blamed UAE Ambassador to Mogadishu Mohammed Ahmed Othman Al Hammadi, who was at the airport to receive the money.
“The Ambassador refused the bags to be examined with metal detectors, electronic scanning, or canine sniffing without opening or detaining the bag which was a simple solution to the problem,” says the official.
The official also dismissed UAE assertions that Somalia infringed on diplomatic protocol at Mogadishu airport during the seizure of the money.
“Any use of the ‘diplomatic’ bags for non-diplomatic purposes waives the privileges and immunities that are afforded by the Convention,” says the official who was referring to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. “In the situation on April 8, the three bags were no longer inviolable and could be subjected to inspection.”
Somalia also denied people on board the plane were held at gunpoint. “We have the CCTV that proves nothing of that sort happened,” says the Somali official.
Somalia also says the MoU UAE is referring to covered training of Somali military and expired in 2016.
Somali officials say the money is stored in the central bank of Somalia pending an investigation. Officials say the investigation will determine whether the money was brought in to “destabilize” the country.
Somalia and the UAE have been at odds since last year when the government of Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed “Farmajo” resisted pressure to cut ties with Qatar and took a neutral position on a dispute between Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
Last month, the Somali government rejected an agreement between the UAE’s Dubai World, Somaliland, and Ethiopia over Berbera port, saying the deal “violates the territorial integrity of Somalia.”