Kenya Airways has suspended flights to Kinshasa. [Edward Kiplimo, Standard]

Days after Kenya Airways suspended flights to Kinshasa to protest the detention of employees by the Democratic Republic of Congo Military Intelligence Unit, a delegation from the Foreign Affairs ministry has been dispatched to Kinshasa.

The instructions of the mission according to sources that spoke to The Standard are to find a solution to the frosty relations.

At the same time, detectives from the DCI Transnational Organised Crime and Interpol have opened investigations into a gold sale racket believed to be one of the reasons why the two KQ employees are being detained.

On Monday, KQ in a statement demanded humane treatment of their staff and termed their detention unlawful. The KQ staff were arrested on April 19 over alleged incomplete documentation of what the carrier termed as valuable cargo. KQ said the detention of the airline’s employees was harassment targeting its business.

DRC has, however, continued to hold the employees, sources in security circles now say they may have been subjected to interrogation not just on the ‘valuable’ cargo that was supposed to be shipped to Kenya aboard KQ on April 12 but other cargo exported from Congo in the past.

Behind the scenes, detectives familiar with the happenings in Kinshasa told The Standard 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 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. 

Meanwhile, sources at the Foreign Affairs Ministry on Thursday said the Kenyan delegation will be negotiating for the release of the detained KQ staff while Kenyan investigators will help probe the missing cargo that originated from Nairobi.

Kenya Airways on Monday suspended flights to Kinshasa as it protested the continued detention of two employees. The airline said it had resorted to suspending flights to Kinshasa as its operations were suffering due to lack of adequate support.

“Due to the continued detention of KQ employees by the Military Intelligence Unit in Kinshasa, Kenya Airways (KQ) is unable to support our flights without personnel effectively. As a result, we reached a difficult decision to suspend flights to Kinshasa effective April 30, 2024, until we can effectively support these flights,” said KQ Chief Executive Allan Kilavuka in a statement. 

He added that the continued detention of its employees had made it difficult for KQ to supervise its operations in Kinshasa. 

The carrier had earlier explained that the staff were arrested because of allegedly missing custom documentation on valuable cargo that was to be transported on a KQ flight on April 12, 2024. KQ said it had not taken possession of the cargo, which was still with the logistics handler that was still taking it through the documentation process. 

When the two employees were arrested, their phones were seized, according to KQ and had been denied communication. It was only on April 23 that the Kenyan embassy officials and a few KQ staff were allowed to visit them but only for a few minutes.

At the same time, detectives yesterday arrested a suspected gold scammer who was found with fake gold nuggets and 23,600 fake US dollar notes in $100 denominations at his Utawala hideout.

The Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) through its official X handle stated that the arrest follows a complaint by a Georgian national who lost more than USD 6 million to fake gold racketeers who tricked him into a 161,000kg gold deal.

The suspect was arrested on Wednesday where the fake US currency was found stuffed in two traveling bags and a steel box.

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