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, Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo broke his silence on the controversial Berbera Port deal issuing a warning to foreign companies investing in Somalia without consent from the Federal Government .
In his speech at the opening of the Third session of the Federal Parliament of Somalia Farmaajo in an apparent reference to the UAE company DP World warned of interference on Somalia matters by foreigners.
“Every company which wants to invest in Somalia must follow the due process as laid down by the law” Farmaajo told Parliament.
“I am warning foreign companies not to interfere with our sovereignty” he said leading Parliamentarians to give him a standing ovation.
“Although we may be weak and our structures still developing we will not allow an inch of our land to be taken” Farmaajo said.
His reaction came amid a smear campaign on social media targeting his person alleged to have been sponsored by the UAE government.
The company behind the deal DP World had issued a statement defending the tripartite agreement The CEO said that he recognizes breakaway region of Somaliland as an independent country.
Sources have told Radio Dalsan that President Farmaajo will next week pay a state visit of Qatar leading a large delegation of ministers coming amid strained relations between Mogadishu and Abu Dhabi.
Somalia had termed the deal illegal saying it had not been consulted when Ethiopia, Somaliland and DP World signed the $1Bn deal.