To many, this is nothing but a local news story, without relevance to the wider world; a story that takes place in Egypt and Zambia, countries that many in the west would not be able to point out in a map.
However, this is a crazy tale that says a lot about the rampant criminality running unchecked around the world – and NOT just in Africa – and it also speaks volumes about the challenges of trying to do journalism in an environment where one doesn’t know where the state players end, and where the criminal element begins.
“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.”
The authorities received information about ‘a chartered aircraft carrying dangerous goods’ at Kenneth Kaunda International Airport.
“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.”
That was not all – there was also the gold. Or the fake gold. Or the ‘metal alloy’. I’ll explain.
600 bars of ‘what was initially believed to be gold’ were found. But upon ‘further inspection’, the pieces were found to be ‘mainly copper and zinc alloy’.
One is pardoned for being skeptical about the gold being ‘zinc’ once we found out that the Zambian ‘man of gold’ was arrested on board. But I get ahead of myself.
The high-speed corporate Bombardier is registered in San Marino, operated by an office in Dubai and connected to an aircraft rental service in Antwerp, Belgium.
The plane was stopped on August 14, having flown from Amman, Jordan, with an overnight stopover in Cairo.
Zambian authorities arrested 13 people in connection with the plane: six Egyptians, four Zambians, and individuals from Latvia, the Netherlands and Spain.
Besides 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, there was another notorious passenger.
Michael Adel Botros is a 42-year-old Egyptian national residing in Qatar. He is the director of Amstone International Limited, a defence technology firm, with offices in the US, Egypt, Poland, Greece, the UAE, the United Kingdom and France.
Now, any self-respecting investigative journalist would be drooling for this story. And so was Egyptian journalist Karim Asaad.
The matsada2sh platform accused security forces of assaulting Asaad’s wife and threatening their child while detaining the journalist.
Security forces asked Asaad about its extensive coverage of the mysterious plane that was intercepted in Zambia after making a stop in Cairo.
Times of Israel reported:
“The Egyptian Press Syndicate’s Freedoms Committee urged authorities to reveal Asaad’s whereabouts, investigate allegations of assaults against him and his wife and called for his release, in a statement Sunday.
Zambian authorities said they found over $5 million in cash and more than 100 kilograms of suspected gold mixed with zinc, copper and nickel on board the aircraft.”
100 kilograms of gold is worth over 6 million dollars.
Asaad was released from police custody on Sunday (August 20th). It’s unclear whether he will pursue his investigation of the ‘mystery plane’.