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Suspected Gold Smuggling And USD8M Cash For Rebels Behind Kenya Airways Employees Detention In DRC

The military intelligence is reportedly suspecting that the cash was destined for funding rebels in the country.

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A multiagency team consisting of detectives from the DCI Transnational Organised Crime and Interpol have taken up the case in which two Kenya Airways (KQ) employees have been detained since February 19 2024 by the Congolese Military Intelligence Unit Militaire des Activities Anti Patrie (DEMIAP).

In a situation that is now fueling tensions between Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) who already have a strained relationship, Kenya Insights has learned of unspecified amount of gold that is suspected to have been smuggled from the mineral rich country and cash going to reveal a lightly kept secret in the fiasco.

The airline’s employees were detained for allegedly failing to complete customs documentation for the valuable cargo. Despite a military court’s order for their release, they remain in custody, complicating the situation further.

While making the initial announcement explained that the said cargo was not uplifted or accepted by KQ due to incomplete documentation asserting that duo was illegally detained.

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“This cargo was still in the baggage section undergoing clearance when the security team arrived and alleged that KQ was transporting cargo without customs clearance,” he said, adding that all efforts to explain to the military officers that KQ had not accepted the cargo because of incomplete documentation were unsuccessful.

Cash

Kenya Insights now has information that the detainees, a Kenyan Lydia Olando Maloba and her Congolese colleague Olivier Lufungula were apprehended for their involvement in an incident concerning the attempted export of $8 million (Sh1billion) in banknotes, purportedly unfit for circulation.

The funds were destined for the reserve federal office in New York but were intercepted by Congolese security forces at N’djili International Airport, reportedly concealed in crates.

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The military intelligence is reportedly suspecting that the cash was destined for funding rebels in the country.

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Gold smuggling ring

Kenya Insights has also learned of an active investigation by the DCI and Interpol into a gold smuggling syndicate that allegedly involved the detained employees.

Behind the scenes, detectives familiar with the happenings in Kinshasa says that military intelligence in Kinshasa has also questioned the two staff over the shipment of three tonnes of gold at different times which was earlier moved to Kenya and then to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Sources say that happened sometime in November 2023 without proper documentation.

The consignment is said to have gone missing at JKIA customs with the help of an elaborate team of agents and top staff of a respected humanitarian agency, aviation operatives have been linked to the disappearance of the cargo.

Consequently, security agents consisting of intelligence officers and Interpol have been dispatched to the UAE to unearth the smuggled goods whose proceeds are suspected to be used to fund rebel groups (namely M23 and/or the Alliance Fleuve Congo Group) in DRC. The sources claimed that unscrupulous buyers were behind the disappearance of the cargo and at one time visited Kenya. The said cartels are operating majorly in the UAE and are well-connected.

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Reports also indicate that Foreign Affairs Ministry said the Kenyan delegation dispatched to DRC will be negotiating for the release of the detained KQ staff while Kenyan investigators will help probe the missing cargo that originated from Nairobi.

Korir Sing’oei, the principal secretary at Kenya’s foreign affairs ministry, emphasized Kenya’s commitment to protecting its citizens abroad and stated that the government was actively engaging with the situation.

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Suspension of flights to Kinshasa

In a move reflecting deepening diplomatic tensions, Kenya Airways on Monday announced the suspension of its flights to Kinshasa, effective April 30, 2024.

The decision follows unresolved issues related to the detention of two airline employees. The airline said it had resorted to suspending flights to Kinshasa as its operations were suffering due to lack of adequate support.

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Kenya Airways, in its statement, cited the ongoing detention and the broader geopolitical tensions as key factors in its decision to suspend flights. “The safety and well-being of our employees are paramount, and the current diplomatic environment has made it challenging to operate effectively in Kinshasa,” said a spokesperson for Kenya Airways.

This development coincides with escalating regional tensions, notably due to the formation of a controversial Congolese military alliance in Nairobi, which includes the M23 rebel group.

Diplomatic tensions

The crisis unfolds against a backdrop of increased friction between Kenya and the DRC, following recent political maneuvers. Congolese politicians and groups, including the M23 rebels, launched the Congo River Alliance in Nairobi. The alliance aims to unify various Congolese armed groups and political organizations. The inclusion of the M23 rebels, who are active in the eastern DRC and have been implicated in territorial conflicts, has particularly strained relations.

This move prompted the DRC to recall its ambassador from Kenya, underscoring the severity of the diplomatic rift. The DRC’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Alain Tshibanda, announced the recall on the X social media platform, highlighting the contentious nature of the newly formed military alliance hosted by Kenya.

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As the situation develops, regional stakeholders are keenly observing the impact on diplomatic and economic relations within the East African Community. Kenya Airways has committed to closely monitoring the situation and resuming flights when conditions permit.

Meanwhile, at least 12 people, including children, have been killed in twin bomb blasts that hit two camps for displaced people in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, according to government officials, the United Nations and an aid group.

Friday’s explosions targeted the camps in Lac Vert and Mugunga, near the city of Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, the UN said in a statement.

The attacks, in which at least 20 people were injured, were a “flagrant violation of human rights and international humanitarian law and may constitute a war crime”, it said.

The Congolese military and the United States accused the military in neighbouring Rwanda and the M23 rebel group of being behind the attacks.

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French President Emmanuel Macron said Rwanda must halt its support for M23, during a joint news conference with Tshisekedi in Paris this week.

About six million people have been killed since violence erupted in 1996. It has also displaced about seven million people, many beyond the reach of aid.

Additional reports by Agencies.

 

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