South Africa News

Top SA businessman arrested in Zambia

A South African businessman has been caught up in an international mystery involving millions of dollars, fake gold bars, an impounded private plane, and citizens of several countries in Africa and Europe.

The man and 10 other people, including an Egyptian businessman, were in a private plane at the Kenneth Kaunda International Airport in Lusaka, Zambia, where they were waiting for a take-off permit. Gunmen entered the aircraft, took cash ‒ including $10 million which was to have been used to buy gold ‒ other valuables, and tortured them for hours before leaving.

Zambian authorities then detained all the people on board.

Mubiana Akakandelwa, spokesperson for the High Commission of The Republic of Zambia in Pretoria, said queries had been forwarded to “ the relevant authorities in Lusaka and we shall revert as soon as we receive the information”.

International law firm Antoine Vey and Associates, which represents one of the passengers, dispatched international criminal lawyer Tom Michel to Lusaka.

Speaking to the Independent on Saturday yesterday, Michel said the men were being held in a filthy cell without access to food, water, a toilet or representation “with fifty people. They can’t even stand up. There is sh*t, pee and blood everywhere”. The only woman arrested was being held in a woman’s cell.

He said those captured were nationals from several countries, including South Africa, Belgium, Egypt and Spain. While he was in the country to assist the businessman who had flown in from Egypt, he would also assist everyone else caught up in the drama, said Michel. The lawyer said he too was arrested two days ago on the pretext that he had a fake passport but had since been released and was safe.

He stressed that the captured all feared for their lives and that he had reached out to the European Union and several governments for assistance. South Africa had not responded to calls for help by the time the Independent on Saturday spoke to Michel.

“Everybody is frightened. In this prison everyone with some money can enter and if they want to, kill the crew because in Zambia with $10 million you can buy the country,” said Michel.

“I know for South Africans, for Europeans, it is weird to have $10 million on a plane but in Zambia it’s normal so everything was legit we have all the documents, the paper for this type of transaction. It’s a big scam, we don’t know … there’s lots of mystery how the scam took place,” he said.

“Any form of identification would be dangerous for (the South African, who is not Vey’s client), but he’s a very important man with many industries,” said Michel, adding that it was possible there were more South Africans among those arrested.

“It’s a crazy story. What happened is simple and complicated. My businessman (client) for the first time in his life made a gold transaction. So he went to Zambia to buy gold and he had cash in his plane to buy this gold. But when they arrived in Zambia there was a mistake because somebody came to the aeroplane with gold, which was not gold but it was brass, and they threatened my client,” said Michel. He stressed that his client’s name, which is known to the Independent on Saturday, should not be revealed.

“It’s very important for his name to be anonymous. The main character is not only Egyptian, he has other nationalities but it is very important for his safety, for his life, that his name is not in your papers,” said Michel.

According to Michel, the South African was effectively hitching a lift home with his official client who had flown in from Egypt to do business in Zambia and then fly on to South Africa, when the drama unfolded.

“There were lots of Zambian people who came into the aircraft to get money for hours and hours. They threatened all the crew to get the cash. After they took all the cash and threatened them, then the police arrested them,” said Michel.

He said the aircraft’s crew had no relationship with his client. “Everyone was captured violently. As we speak 96 hours after, there are still no charges against them, they have not been charged, they have not been to court, they have not been convicted, it’s crazy.”

The matter first came to light just after 9pm on Thursday when the firm Antoine Vey and Associates released a statement stating that Zambian authorities had detained those on board. It said officials had confiscated cash and sophisticated mineral testing equipment related to the business activities of the “plane’s lessee”.

The statement said the plane left Egypt on August 13 and on that night and into Monday, August 14, the crew was forced to open the aircraft “under pressure and threats”.

“The crew and passengers of the private San Remo-registered aircraft that flew from Cairo had landed for refuelling and to pick up a prominent South African businessman on his way to Johannesburg,” the statement said. “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 called for the immediate release of all those detained so that they could be accommodated in “proper living conditions” while the investigation was under way and, within a maximum of 48 hours, for the “…unconditional approval for the aircraft and its passengers, with all their confiscated belongings, to depart Kenneth Kaunda International Airport after receiving the adequate apologies for the gross mistreatment they have received for no fault of their own”.

In a WhatsApp response to questions, Lunga Ngqengelele from the Department of International relations and Cooperation said: “Sadly, I’m unable to respond to your questions as the consular work that the government does is for the families, not the media…”

-The Independent on Saturday

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