By Ethan Lou and Tanisha Heiberg
TORONTO/JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Swaziland King Mswati III's official plane has been detained in Canada for the second time in two years due to a debt dispute, according to Canadian court documents.
Singaporean entrepreneur Shanmuga Rethenam, a former business partner of Mswati, detained the plane this month through Canadian courts in his latest bid to freeze the king's foreign assets as he tries to claim nearly $8 million he says he is owed.
Swaziland government spokesman Percy Simelane on Wednesday noted the king has said he does not owe money to Rethenam, adding he could not go into details because the matter is before the courts.
On May 5, a Toronto court ordered Mswati's McDonnell Douglas DC-9-87 to be confined to the Canadian province of Ontario, where it has been serviced by a local firm, according to legal files.
Rethenam said he sold Mswati the plane in 2010, according to court documents, and then paid for modifications and refinancing totaling nearly $6.5 million.
Rethenam's subsequent legal action in Canada detained the plane for four months last year before Mswati's side agreed to surrender $3.5 million to be held in place of the plane.
Rethenam returned this year with a "worldwide freezing order" from a judge in the British Virgin Islands (BVI), where his aviation firm is registered, according to Canadian court files.
A BVI court had ordered some of Mswati's foreign assets frozen until it makes a decision on Rethenam's claim, according to a copy of a judgment he provided. That case is still ongoing.
CHARGES IN SWAZILAND
Rethenam has been separately charged with misappropriating funds while he operated a Swazi mining venture with Mswati between 2011 and 2014, according to a Swaziland government prosecutor, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The prosecutor said Rethenam is to report to the Swazi High Court by June 30 for a pre-trial conference, and added the charges are unrelated to Rethenam's debt dispute with the king.
Rethenam said in an interview on Wednesday that the timing of the fraud, theft and tax evasion charges, laid on Monday, was suspicious and he believed they were being used to "retaliate" against him.
Simelane declined to comment on the charges.
Swaziland's Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs could not be immediately reached for comment.