Little-known Malawian aviation company Nyasa Air Charters was involved in a plot to purchase nine military aircraft from Egypt as part of an audacious plan aimed at laundering money and building a drug-trafficking operation across Africa.
The 2020 deal to purchase nine obsolete Egyptian Air Force DHC-Buffalos eventually collapsed, but reveals a picture of an elaborate scheme to build various businesses in aviation, agriculture, food and military-equipment supply across the continent and beyond.
A Zimbabwe-registered company linked to Irish drug lord Christopher Vincent Kinahan Sr also explored establishing an industrial cannabis business in Malawi before discarding the idea, according to information reviewed.
A cache of pictures, documents and exchanges of messages acquired by the Platform for Investigative Journalism (PIJ) and subsequently shared with partner International Consortium for Investigative Journalism (ICIJ) and the Irish Times reveal previously unknown ties between Kinahan and Adam Lincoln Woodington Wood, a Zimbabwean businessman, Egyptian facilitators and a British mercenary. Kinahan is under US sanctions for engaging in narcotics smuggling and money laundering.
Kinahan, 65, is the leader of one of Europe’s most notorious gangs, a narcotics, money-laundering and arms-trafficking cartel with ties to Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.
Believed to be living in Dubai, the convicted heroin dealer and money launderer and is also a suspect in various murder cases. The US has offered a $5 million reward for information leading to Kinahan’s arrest and conviction.
The leaked documents confirm that the pair were working with an Egyptian lawyer, Ibrahim Eldesouky, and several Zimbabwean and UK-based aviation and financial figures tied to Wood as they attempted to pull off the deal.
The Egyptian Deal
Documents show that Kinahan made a daring bid with a cabal of associates to purchase a fleet of Egyptian military transport aircraft as a potential safe haven and to establish new bases along drug-trafficking routes in Africa.
The documents are part of a cache of material leaked to PIJ that includes remarkable photographs of the crime boss.
Through a Dubai company called Sea Dream Middle East General Trading, Kinahan, under the guise of an air-relief operator, sought to buy the de Havilland Canada DHC-5 Buffalo planes, renowned for their short take-off and landing capabilities.
The attempted purchase of the Egyptian aircraft is just one of several efforts by the Kinahan cartel to buy aircraft and related equipment from African militaries.
At the time of the botched aircraft sale, Kinahan faced passport fraud charges in Spain and appeared frequently in news articles detailing the wide array of his alleged crimes.
Kinahan initially introduced himself to his African aviation associates as Christopher Vincent, but as their ties strengthened and passports were exchanged, they realised who he was.
Wood was named in correspondence between Sea Dream Middle East Trading and the Egyptian air force concerning the possible purchase of the utility aircraft and later went to inspect them.
In 2003, in his mid-20s, Daniel Kinahan was registered as the director of a property investment firm in Spain called Sea Dream Homes SL. Nearly two decades later, Sea Dream Middle East General Trading joined the family portfolio.
In 2020, Sea Dream’s managing director, Eldesouky who also runs a legal consultancy in Dubai, corresponded with the Egyptian defence attaché in Abu Dhabi, Hisham Nabil Monir, in a bid to buy the nine DHC Buffalo military transport planes for around $8 million.
An official document written in Arabic and provided to PIJ and ICIJ along with screenshots of text messages, confirm that the Egyptian government initially offered 30 planes for sale.
Between January 2020 and September 2021, Eldesouky and the Egyptians officials continued to discuss how many planes were on offer and at what price as well as making arrangements for a visit to inspect the aircraft at the Almaza Air Force base in northeastern Cairo.
In February 2020, Monir sent Sea Dream a list of aircraft, spare parts and equipment available for purchase. The following month, the attaché sent Sea Dream technical information related to the Buffalo aircraft and gave “the Egyptian Air Force’s approval” for a field inspection to take place between March 10 and 15th. The documents show that the Sea Dream team visited Egypt at least twice, in December 2020 and again May 2021.
In an exchange of letters in Arabic, Monir wrote that Sea Dream would be provided with lists of spare parts, including engines, after an offer was received and requested copies of the passports of Sea Dream’s “technical inspection team”.
Monir identified the members of the team as Wood, two men photographed with Kinahan at the Egyptian aviation conference and Charles Robert Demblon, a Zimbabwean who also holds a Belgian passport.
By December 2020,Kinahan and his associates were confident that a deal for the purchase of nine Buffalos would go through, and said that they were transferring millions of dollars to pay for them.
“I will wait for the 10 million to be transferred to the company account,” reads one message from Eldesouky.
But Eldesouky hinted at trouble in finalising the deal in another message where he states that the “90 percent” down payment had been revised as “not appropriate”.
While the two sides attempted to negotiate a deal, Eldesouky and Wood kept Kinahan — identified as CV DXB in text messages — updated on the matter.
Screenshots from a WhatsApp conversation dated September 2021 show Kinahan notifying his team that “the buffalo deal is now officially closed”. PIJ also has a copy of the letter that was sent to the Egyptian defence ministry listing a number of technical problems with the aircraft to justify the cancellation of the deal.
Information PIJ and ICIJ have reviewed shows that Kinahan failed to raise the money to pay for the aircraft, Egyptians became impatient and Eldesouky’s family in Egypt felt at risk. Kinahan re-assured Eldesouky and called him “Little brother”.
Wood used Nyasa Air Charters to back off from the deal when it became apparent that Kinahan could not raise the funds to go through with the Egyptian deal.
“As a company we have investigated all possibilities and we have been unable to convince Malawi Civil Aviation Authority to waive any of the rectification requirements, due to a number of reasons including a pending compliance audit of Malawi’s Department of Civil Aviation by ICAO [International Civil Aviation Organisation]. Consequently, the added expense has rendered the whole project untenable at the price that has been set by the Egyptian military after more than 18 months of negotiations,” wrote Wood.
Malawi’s Transport minister Jacob Hara pledged to investigate the findings and the links between Nyasa Air Charters and the Kinahan gang.
The humanitarian guise
The investigation provided an unprecedented insight into the double life that Kinahan, who is rarely photographed, has been living while posing as business and aviation consultant Christopher Vincent.
Kinahan and Wood were photographed grinning at a 2019 aviation conference at the Red Sea resort city of Sharm El Sheikh hosted by the World Food Programmeandthe outgoing Egyptian minister of civil aviation, Lieutenant General Younisal-Masri, Egypt’s former Air Force commander.
In the photo, Kinahan and Wood sport conference lanyards around their necks, wear luxury watches on their wrists and have two phones each close at hand on top of a glass table.
The conference was attended by people and organisations who deliver air services for charitable and disaster-relief programmes.
Kinahan’s attendance shows that he was establishing his credentials as an air emergency service operator in the months before the Sea Dream team sought to buy planes from the Cairo government.
In one photo, Kinahan, dressed casually in a light blue shirt and grey trousers, is grinning alongside Wood.
Kinahan and Wood attended the conference at Egypt’s Sinai peninsula with a colourful Irish-born, London-based security expert and mercenary, John Nammock.
Nammock first came to public attention when he was convicted alongside 12 other mercenaries in Angola in 1976 for crimes against peace. He narrowly escaped execution in Angola.
Kinahan worked with Nammock, Eldesouky, James Whittington Landon and Demblon on the Egypt deal. Kinahanalso tasked Nammock to act as a security chief for one of his companies and used Nammock’s connections to UN agencies to win deals.
Taken together, the images and documents show Kinahan, under the guise of Christopher Vincent, building international relationships with established air relief partners to rebrand his image.
But it quickly became clear that Kinahan had a more sinister intention: to launder drug money and move drugs along trafficking routes across northern Mozambique.
At Home in Africa
The images shared with PIJ and ICIJ show Kinahan sitting next to Wood, who is also the manager of series of companies and restaurants in the UAE, Malawi, Singapore and other countries.
In photos obtained by PIJ, Kinahanis seen holding court in the comfortable surroundings of a hotel inHarare, Zimbabwe, Amanzi Lodge. The photos, from September 2019, show Kinahan, Wood and Eldesouky with African and Iranian businesspeople at a table on the terrace after lunch. The group occupied rooms and spent four nights at the hotel, which a copy of their hotel reservation confirms.
Many of the diners had ties to Crescents and Crosses, an air-relief services agency, which had been working closely with Nyasa Air Charters and was attempting to take it over.
Documents shared with PIJ and ICIJ show that Kinahan started a new aviation company called CV Aviation Consulting Services DWC-LLC nearly a year before the US placed sanctions on him in April. A license carrying the “Dubai Government” name and logo read: “With reference to the above subject, Dubai Civil Aviation Authority has no objection to [issue] an order to proceed with its activities.” The company address is in Dubai South Business Park, one of UAE’s secretive free zones.
The name of the applicant is Neslihan Yildirim, who the insider described as Kinahan’s wife although Irish police say she is his “long-term partner”. LinkedIn shows Nessy (most probably short for Neslihan) Yildirim identifying herself as the founder and chief executive officer of CV Aviation Consulting Services DWC-LLC.
The open-source database shows that Yildirim also owns an olive oil trading company in Marbella, holds Turkish and Dutch passports and was born in 1975. Yildrimis understood to be the mother of three of Kinahan’s children. The couple attempted to marry in Zimbabwe and settle in Harare, according to some insiders.
Kinahan sought to establish a base in Zimbabwe, but was forced to abandon his plans after being denied permanent residency.
Kinahan flew frequently to Zimbabwe, where he had joint business interests with Wood, who is involved in aviation, property development and agriculture, including in a company that sought a medical marijuana licence.
The Irish police confirmed that Kinahan’s attempts to settle down in Zimbabwe failed after authorities in that country blocked him when they started to liaise with the US.
Wood, Kinahan, Yildirim and an Emirati called Samir Hussein Habib Sajwani established CV Aviation in Dubaiin2020. Sajwani was listed in a Dubai Civil AviationAuthority licence as the director of CV Aviation.
The cache of documents also contains evidence that even after the US sanctioned Kinahan and offered a huge reward for his arrest and conviction in April this year, Sajwani acted for the company located in Dubai South Business Park, a sprawling free zone.
Documents shared with ICIJ and PIJ include photocopies of Yildirim’s passport, Sajwani’s driving license, Wood’s UAE visa dated October 2020 and his Dubai “employment card”.
Bearing the logo of “Dubai Government”, Woods Dubai “employment card” features a photo of Wood and a stamp that reads “CV Aviation and consulting services LLC”, referencing Kinahan’s company.
Just seven days after the US sanctions were imposed, Sajwani named Wood as the company’s chief operations officer, thereby authorising Kinahan’s close confidante to sign and execute all documents on behalf of CV Aviation.
The Kinahans have also been getting away with murder for years.
After first distributing heroin and cocaine in Ireland in the 1990s, Christopher Kinahan Sr., now 65, and his sons, Daniel and Christopher Jr., expanded their organisation to the UK and Europe.
The cache reinforces the reports that authorities in Dubai turned a blind eye to the Kinahans’ activities and that well-connected local intermediaries have been assisting the cartel. The UAE has frozen Kinahan’s assets.
According to European police, the cartel has links to Albainia, Australia, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Curaçao, Cyprus, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Germany, Italy, Japan, Maldives, Mexico, Morocco, the Netherlands, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Portugal, Surinam and Thailand
Following the Mafia’s lead, the gang set up hundreds of companies, many reputedly in hospitality and real estate to hide and move huge quantities of cash made from selling drugs, according to Europol.
This story was published by the Platform for Investigative Journalism (PIJ-Malawi) which partnered with International Consortium for Investigative Journalism (ICIJ) and Irish Times. PIJ received financial support from the Cannon Collins Trust to support the investigation. PIJ-Malawi is a non-profit public interest centre for investigative journalism.
This story was syndicated by the IJ Hub on behalf of its member centre, the PIJ