The cash and fake gold that no-one is claiming
The aircraft flew from Cairo to Zambia a fortnight ago, but there is no certainty beyond that. So far nobody in Egypt or Zambia admits to chartering the plane or owning its contents.
With so many questions unanswered rumours have been swirling.
Could those involved be high-level Egyptian or Zambian political or military figures? Was this a one-off flight or the first out of hundreds to finally be rumbled?
What is known is that all six Egyptians aboard the aircraft and others who joined them at Lusaka’s airport are due to appear in court on Monday.
Some of the Zambians who are being held have been charged with espionage and obtaining money on false pretences. The Egyptians have not yet been charged.
The world might have remained oblivious to it all were it not for a journalist whose fact-checking website, Matsda2sh, accused officials in Egypt of involvement in the incident. Soon after that Egyptian plainclothes security forces raided Karim Asaad’s Cairo home in the dead of night and arrested him.
At first he just disappeared. Nobody knew where or why Mr Asaad had been taken.
Then independent Egyptian journalists published documents over social media purportedly taken from the Zambian police investigation into the cash-filled aircraft.
These reportedly named three Egyptian military officers and a senior police officer among those arrested, backing up Mr Asaad’s allegations.
A barrage of protests on social media, many of them from fellow journalists, led to his release two days later. What exactly he had been arrested for remains another mystery.
The Egyptian authorities would only say that the aircraft mentioned on Mr Asaad’s website was privately owned and merely transited through Cairo. In other words, the country and its officials had nothing to do with the case.Somehow, it seems, a Zambian man carrying bags of what looked like gold was allowed to stroll through security and meet the newly arrived Egyptians on the plane.
Nobody appears to know who authorised this but, according to Zambian media reports, a few cash handouts had helped ease his path.
After he climbed aboard the man allegedly sold a portion of the supposed gold he was carrying to the men on the plane. They then asked him for more.
What is not clear is if they managed to discover that what he was selling was actually counterfeit before security staff arrived to search the aircraft.
The arrest, it seems, was not straightforward.
Several of the officers who entered the plane are now being investigated for allegedly receiving up to $200,000 each from the Egyptian nationals aboard the plane. It is claimed this was their reward for allowing the plane to take off without arresting anyone.Presumably the suspects had trouble explaining what they were doing with millions of dollars in cash, several pistols, 126 rounds of ammunition and what looked like more than 100kg of gold bars.
The gold bars were particularly puzzling.
It turned out that, as well as gold, they were made from a mixture of copper, nickel, tin and zinc. All that glitters is clearly not gold.
It seems the Egyptians aboard the plane may have been saved from a very bad deal.
The Zambian lawyer acting for one of the 10 arrested men said another mystery was why the security forces seemed so bad at maths.
Makebi Zulu told the that at first police said they had found $11m in cash. This, he went on, was later downgraded to around $7m before finally settling on the sum of $5.7m.
One possible explanation could lie in reports that nearly half of the money had been taken off the plane before the arresting team arrived. If true that would mean those involved staggering through the airport with more than $5m – a little hard to do discreetly.
Mr Zulu is also perplexed about the disparate treatment of the men since their arrest.
When word somehow got out that wads of money on the plane were allegedly changing hands, another group of security staff charged onto the aircraft and arrested those inside.
Soon after that the spotlight shifted to Zambia after the plane touched down at Lusaka’s Kenneth Kaunda Airport.