Egyptians arrested in Zambia may have been seeking shady gold deal
More information is gradually emerging about the mysterious private jet impounded at Lusaka airport in Zambia after a flight from Cairo, and enough is now known to suggest a possible explanation of what was going on.
It appears that the Egyptians on board the jet had flown to Lusaka to buy gold and had brought $5.7 million in cash to pay for it. The price was very attractive but they were about to be swindled, because the gold bars were fakes.
Demand for gold has soared in Egypt because of the country’s economic crisis. With inflation running at 36.5% many people are switching to gold to protect the value of their assets. There’s thus a ready market and anyone with cash to buy cheap gold in Zambia can hope to resell it in Egypt at a handsome profit.
Based on that, it’s unlikely that the 602 bars of fake gold found on the plane when Zambian police searched it had been flown from Cairo. It’s more likely they had been delivered to the plane after its arrival in Lusaka.
According to sources quoted by the Zambian Daily Revelation website no one left the Bombardier Global Express business jet when it arrived but people from a smaller aircraft began transferring luggage to it.
The presumption is that this baggage contained the “gold” bars. The total weight of metal was 127kg. There were reportedly six bags or cases, which would give an average weight of just over 20kg each — heavy but manageable.
If the $5.7 million was intended to cover the full purchase cost of the “gold”, the price per kilogram would be $45,000. Had the “gold” been real rather than an alloy of copper and zinc, that would have been a bargain. Typical market rates are in the region of $60,000-$70,000 per kilogram.
Further indications that a gold deal (albeit a bogus one) was at the centre of the affair can be seen from a look at the backgrounds of the Egyptians and Gambians who have been arrested.
Six of the 10 people arrested on the plane that flew from Cairo were Egyptians. Two of the Egyptians are connected with the gold trade and, from what is known so far, they seem to be the key figures on the Egyptian side.
One of them, Micheal Adel Michel Botros, comes from an Egyptian merchant family but has residency in Qatar. According to his passport he is a goldsmith, though he has multiple business interests. Among other things, he is the sole director of Amstone International, a company registered in Britain. According to its website it provides consultancy services relating to military technology.
The second man, Mounir Shaker Gerges Awad, is 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”. He had sent out invites for the opening of a new shop, scheduled for August 18, but on August 16 — the day news broke of the plane’s seizure in Zambia — his son announced the event had been postponed. No reason was given.
Three other Egyptians arrested on the same plane — Walid Refat Fahimi Botros Abelsayed, Yasser Mokhtar Abelghafor Elshishtawy and Mohammed Abdelhak Mohammed Gouda — have been provisionally identified as having a military/police background, so it’s likely their role was to provide security.
The sixth Egyptian has not been named but unconfirmed reports suggest he was the pilot.
Four others arrested on the plane had Zambian, Latvian, Dutch and Spanish nationality. The Spaniard, named as David de la Cruz, is said to have been the plane’s first officer. His LinkedIn profile describes him as working for TAG Aviation in Spain.
The remaining three have not been identified but one of them is said to be a female flight attendant.
There’s a similar picture on the Zambian side of the transaction. Sedrick Kasanda, one of the four Zambians arrested, is a gold dealer with a controversial past. Another is Oswald Diangamo, a businessman also reported to be in the gold trade.
Of the remaining two, one is Jim Belemu, founder and CEO of Mahogany Air, a regional airline centred on Lusaka airport, which is reported to have operated the smaller aircraft, a King Air B190. The fourth Zambian is Patrick Kawanu, believed to have been its pilot.
At this point the story starts to look a bit more complicated. A further person arrested — and possibly the most interesting — is a South African called Mcebisi Mlonzi. Last Thursday a French law firm, Vey & Associés, issued an angry statement complaining about the detentions. It seemed especially angry about the treatment of Mlonzi, though it didn’t name him or state that he is the firm’s client.
According to the law firm, the private jet from Cairo had landed in Lusaka “for refuelling and to pick up a prominent South African businessman on his way to Johannesburg.” The statement added: “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.”
Mlonzi is chief executive of TFM Holdings, a group of 11 companies based in South Africa. Its LinkedIn entry says: “The group companies specialise in the importation, manufacturing, supply and support of specialist truck bodies, primarily for the transport, construction, forestry, cargo body, waste and environmental transport industries. TFM also manufactures ambulances, armoured vehicles, including cash-in-transit vehicles, components for the automotive and engineering industries, fuel tanks, trailers of all sizes as well as carrying out alterations to truck chassis and supply and fitment of hydraulic kits.”
On Friday News Diggers, a Zambian website quoted an unnamed source in the Zambian investigation as saying Mlonzi is “actually one of the key person[s] in this”. The source explained: “Mlonzi is the one who knows the Egyptians and the other foreigners who came into the country. He is the one who connected them to the [arrested] Zambian guy, Kasanda. He told them that Kasanda had the connection that could help them have a safe landing and transact without being inconvenienced.”
A further twist in the tale is that Mahogany Air’s Jim Belemu is also the local representative for TFM Holdings. Last year Mlonzi and Belemu accused the Zambian health minister, Sylvia Masebo, of demanding “facilitation fees” and a luxury vehicle in return for awarding TFM a contract to build a 150-bed hospital. Masebo denied the allegations.
Originally published at https://al-bab.com.
More posts on this topic:
● Egypt-Zambia gold scam: the plot thickens (6 September 2023)