Somali security officials said they have seized a large cache of money that arrived Sunday at Mogadishu airport from Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Two senior security officials told VOA Somali three suitcases containing $9.6 million have been put In storage in the central bank of Somalia pending an investigation.
Another security official said Ambassador Mohammed Ahmed Othman Al Hammadi, UAE envoy to Mogadishu, was at the airport to receive the money.
The official said Al Hammadi’s entourage tried to take the money out of the airport but were instructed by security forces to have the bags scanned.
“The ambassador refused, walked back to the plane with three bags, and counterterrorism units confiscated the three bags,” said the officer who requested anonymity.
The Royal Jet plane has since been released.
Al Hammadi told VOA Somali the money was not intended for the UAE embassy. “The money is for the ministry of defense. It’s for the salary of the Somali soldiers,” he told VOA.
He said the government knew in advance that the money was coming for the troops. The UAE has been training Somali soldiers in Mogadishu, as well as about 1,000 maritime police in the Puntland region.
Somali officials argue the money was not intended for the Somali army. “The salary for the army is less than $1 million. This is almost $10 million,” the official said.
“I’m certain that they have been informed not to bring money. The onus is on us to respond,” the official said. He added that an investigation will determine whether the money was brought in to “destabilize” the country.
Relations between Somalia and the UAE have been frosty since last year when the government of Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed 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.”
Somali officials said a foreign country believed to be Saudi Arabia has agreed to mediate between Somalia and UAE. It is unclear if there were direct talks between the two countries.
According to Somali diplomatic sources, late last month the Somali Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned Al Hammadi and explained its position on the port agreement, as well as a separate military agreement between Somaliland and UAE to build a military base in Berbera.
This story was written by VOA’s Harun Maruf. Abdulaziz Osman contributed.