Why did Zambia seize a mystery plane filled with cash, guns and metals?

Details of the plane’s flightpaths and passengers were uncovered by an Egyptian journalist who was later arrested.

underbelly of plane flying overhead
For illustrative purposes only. The high-speed corporate Bombardier, appeared to fly unfettered across multiple locations [File: Bryan Woolston/Reuters]

When a mysterious plane was intercepted on August 14 in the Zambian capital, Lusaka, by local authorities, Karim Asaad, an investigative journalist working for an Egyptian fact-checking platform matsada2sh got to work.

What he found was a complex network of passengers on board a plane with a suspicious flight path that included recent stops in Dubai, UAE; Tel Aviv, Israel; Cairo, Egypt; and Benghazi and Tripoli, Libya.

On August 19, Egyptian authorities arrested Asaad at his home in the al-Shorouk neighbourhood in eastern Cairo.

Matsada2sh says security forces assaulted Asaad’s wife and threatened their child in the process.

He has since been released, but why were the Egyptian security forces so threatened by the information released? Here is what you need to know about the mysterious plane, its passengers and its cargo:

Where was the plane from?

Through open-source data and online flight trackers, matsada2sh was able to reveal a trail of suspicious flight paths in which the plane, a high-speed corporate Bombardier, appeared to fly unfettered across multiple locations.

INTERACTIVE Zambia Egypt plane-1692623439
(Al Jazeera)

According to the data, the plane appears to have been registered in San Marino but operated by an office in Dubai that was connected to an aircraft rental service in Antwerp, Belgium. The aircraft owner had asked FlightAware, the world’s largest flight tracking platform, not to track the plane’s flights and to withhold flight information from the public.

Where did it go?

The plane appears to have made 361 round trips in two years, usually in and out of Cairo, to various destinations.

It even made flights to Tripoli and Benghazi, two cities on either side of the ongoing conflict in Libya, within days of each other.

On another occasion, it took off from Cairo and stopped over in Tel Aviv, and Doha, Qatar, before returning to the Egyptian capital.

The plane was stopped on August 14, 2023, at Kenneth Kaunda International Airport in Lusaka, having flown from Amman, Jordan, with an overnight stopover in Cairo.

Who was on board the plane?

Zambian authorities have so far arrested 13 people in connection with the plane, including six Egyptians, four Zambians, and individuals from Latvia, the Netherlands and Spain.

Matsada2sh has published details related to some of those individuals who appear to be a clandestine network ranging from a high-profile tycoon to lesser-known individuals with a shady trail of business stretching across Europe and the Middle East.

Some were relatively easy to find information on, including Zambian national Shadrick Kasanda, known as “the man of gold” and “Mr Money”, who regularly published pictures and videos of himself next to large quantities of what appeared to be gold.

Zambian president
Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema has said everyone involved in the scam at the Lusaka airport will be arrested and prosecuted [File: Shelley Christians/Reuters]

Others include a major in the Egyptian army who briefly worked at the Egyptian embassy in the US capital and a police lieutenant in the Egyptian Ministry of Interior.

Matsada2sh also named Michael Adel Botros as a passenger, who, according to the British government’s register, is a 42-year-old Egyptian national residing in Qatar. He is the director of Amstone International Limited, which according to their website, offers a wide range of advanced defence technology and boasts offices in the United States, Egypt, Poland, Greece, the UAE, the United Kingdom and France.

What was on the plane?

On August 14, the day after the plane arrived in Zambia, the country’s Drug Enforcement Commission (DEC) entered the aircraft.

According to a DEC statement, it had “received information that a chartered aircraft carrying dangerous goods had landed at Kenneth Kaunda International Airport on 13th August 2023 at 19:00 hours”.

The next day, DEC reportedly seized more than $5.5m stored in bags and boxes, five pistols, seven magazines and more than 100 rounds of ammunition.

In a further twist, more than 600 pieces of what was initially believed to be gold were found. However, on further inspection, the pieces were found to be mainly copper and zinc alloy.

Source: Al Jazeera