Eleven people appeared in a Zambian court last week following the discovery of $5.7 million in cash, 602 bars of fake gold, five pistols and 126 rounds of ammunition aboard a private jet that landed at Lusaka airport on a flight from Egypt.
Oddly, though, there was no mention of money, gold or weapons on the charge sheet. Instead, the suspects were charged with an offence under Zambia’s anti-espionage law.
There’s no reason to suppose any of the eleven were actually spying but the unanswered question is what — exactly — they were up to. So far, nobody seems sure and most of the suspects are reported to be uncooperative. It’s obvious, though, that some kind of scam was going on. For a start, no one has claimed ownership of the $5.7 million or the fake gold. The metal bars, consisting mainly of copper, weighed 127kg and would have been worth around $8 million if they had been real gold.
Amid uncertainty over what crimes the suspects might be charged with, Zambia’s State Security Act offered a solution. Section 3 of the Act makes it illegal to approach or enter a “protected place” for purposes harmful to the interests of the state. According to the charge sheet the suspects committed a crime by entering “a protected space, namely Kenneth Kaunda International Airport area for purposes that were prejudicial to the safety and interest of the Republic of Zambia”.
Charges under Zambia’s State Security Act are extremely serious, with a minimum penalty of 20 years in prison for anyone convicted. By invoking the Act rather than bringing lesser charges, the authorities could be confident the suspects would to be denied bail — and thus held in custody while investigations continue.
Following the court hearing, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Gilbert Phiri, issued routine notices confirming that bail had been refused for all eleven suspects — on the grounds that granting it was likely to prejudice Zambia’s national interest.
But there was an unexpected twist because Phiri simultaneously issued a nolle prosequi notice suspending the espionage charges against six of the accused — five Egyptians and one Zambian. No explanation was given and, while this allowed for their release, it did not amount to an acquittal: the charges can be reinstated at some point in the future or replaced by different charges.
Defendant snatched from cell
In another odd development, the second day of the court hearing was side-tracked by the disappearance of one of the defendants — Shadreck Kasanda, a flamboyant Zambian gold dealer known locally as “King Shad”. It turned out he had been snatched from a holding cell and driven away in a bus.
Kasanda later told the court he had been abducted by five officers from the Drug Enforcement Commission (DEC). He claimed they had taken him to a bank and ordered him to withdraw $10 million, threatening to charge him with armed robbery if he failed to give them the money.
Kasanda says he refused and was then taken to “the command centre” and beaten. He was released following intervention from his lawyers.
A senior DEC officer told the court Kasanda had been abducted by armed paramilitaries. Although the DEC is concerned mainly with drug offences it became involved in the fake gold affair because its officers were keeping watch at Lusaka airport when the private jet arrived from Egypt.
So far, at least 15 people have been arrested in connection with the case. Below is an updated list. Spelling of names varies in different documents.
Five Egyptians who arrived from Cairo on the private jet
1. Walid Refat Fahimi Botros Abelsayed: “general manager”.
2. Mounir Shaker Gerges Awad: a gold dealer who also manufactures and sells jewellery. The firm has shops in Zagazig and Cairo, plus a factory known as “Shaker Gold Factory Genius Gold”.
3. Mohammed Abdelhak Mohammed Gouda: retired colonel.
4. Yasser Mokhtar Abelghafor Elshishtawy: “health and safety officer”.
5. Micheal [sic] Adel Michel Botros: From an Egyptian merchant family but resident in Qatar. His passport says he is a goldsmith, though he has multiple business interests, including a British-registered company which provides consultancy services relating to military technology.
Air crew — various nationalities
6. Teunis de Mooiy: a Dutch pilot.
7. Dela Cruz Castilla: a Spanish pilot.
8. Ali Safi Abdull Ali: a pilot from St Kitts & Nevis, resident in Cairo.
9. Noha Salaheldin Aly Nadim: a female flight attendant, nationality not specified.
10. Shadreck Kapasa Kasanda: a gold dealer with a controversial past.
11. Patrick Kwangu: variously described as a commercial pilot and “accountable executive”.
12. Mulungu Oswald Diangamo: “accountant” (espionage charge suspended).
13. Jim Belemu: businessman; founder and CEO of Mahogany Air, a regional airline centred on Lusaka airport.
14. Francis Mateyo: security officer at State House.
15. Robson Moonga: police commanding officer at Lusaka airport.
A sixteenth person — a South African businessman — is also believed to have been arrested, though the information is sketchy. A statement issued by French lawyer Antoine Vey on August 17 said the private jet had landed in Lusaka “for refueling and to pick up a prominent South African businessman on his way to Johannesburg”.
It continued: “The businessman on board with his entourage and security detail, armed with fully licensed handguns, were forced physically to disembark, were deprived of their passports and placed under custody first at the airport and, later, at a police station inside Lusaka.”
Vey’s statement did not identify the South African but Zambian media reports have named him as Mcebisi Mlonzi.
More posts on this topic:
● Egyptians arrested in Zambia may have been seeking shady gold deal (23 August 2023)