An American billionaire, Paul Allen, has been taken to court on allegations that he was, among other things, trying to smuggle giraffe bones from Botswana to the United States of America.
Allen’s aides are also accused of having bribed Botswana customs officials to get them to turn a blind eye to illegal exportation of giraffe bones.
While giraffe bones may be legally exported from Botswana and imported into the United States, there are regulations to be followed which Allen is said to have tried to circumvent.
In recent times, poaching as well as smuggling of regulated wildlife products have become a big headache for Botswana authorities, with growing evidence that wealthy foreign nationals who visit Botswana’s tourism centres systematically bribe customs and airport officials in order to smuggle their trophies outside the country.
A regular visitor to Botswana, especially at the Okavango Delta, Allen has a holiday house in Maun as well as a hotel in the Tuli Block which he co-owns with a consortium of wealthy businessmen.
One of the world’s wealthiest individuals, Allen co-founded Microsoft with Bill Gates in the 1970s, before a fallout that saw Allen leave to start a separate empire.
According to information before the King County Superior Court, a safari guide was arrested and detained in Maun by customs officials after Paul Allen and sister, Jody, were caught with giraffe bones in their luggage.
This has led to a fallout within Allen’s security detail, as some of the bodyguards have now come out to say the giraffe bones are part of wider pattern of illegalities they are often forced to do by their principals.
A former head of Allen’s security, Kathy Leodler, has said in a sworn statement before the court that the arrest of her juniors at Maun prompted her to undertake an investigation the outcome of which left her concerned that her team was being asked to bribe foreign officials, falsify customs declarations and smuggle protected items.
Court papers further allege that a review of the trip to Botswana by the Allens has revealed a pattern of illegality.
“The acts I have witnessed and had to engage in to perform my job to the expectations of my Principals leave me with no choice other than to constructively terminate my employment,” reads a statement by one of Allen’s bodyguards.
While the case is scheduled for October, Allen’s team of lawyers, said to be among America’s finest, is trying hard to get the case off the public view.
Attempts have been made to have the hearings held before an arbitrator, which will effectively take both the case and its outcome off the public arena. Allen’s lawyers are also arguing that their former employees have signed confidentiality clauses with him and his company and that they should not be allowed to break those clauses.
“It would be wrong to allow the Allens to use confidentiality agreements to hide criminal activities,” argues one of the former bodyguards who is also suing Paul Allen.
At another level, Paul Allen is currently engaged in an expensive legal dispute in Botswana over a dispute involving concession rights in the Okavango.
Curiously, the case reached the court after Botswana government took sides with Allen against a company which is owned by a one of Botswana’s wealthiest businessman, John Maynardt.