“Socalj” for Borderland Beat
|A drug cartel godfather bid millions to buy a fleet of obsolete Egyptian military aircraft.
International drug trafficker Christopher Kinahan Sr. was involved in an audacious bid to purchase a fleet of Egyptian military transport planes as he sought a safe haven and new bases close to drug-trafficking routes in Africa. A cache of documents reveals how Christopher Kinahan Sr. masqueraded as a relief flight consultant before the bid was put to four high-ranking Egyptian military officers.
In 2020, a Dubai company linked to Kinahan, Sea Dream Middle East General Trading LLC, tried to purchase as many as 9 used de Havilland Canada DHC-5 Buffalo planes from the Egyptian air force, according to documents obtained by Malawi’s Platform for Investigative Journalism (PIJ) and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.
Hundreds of documents show Kinahan micromanaging elements of the deal, including setting up a website and attempting to strike similar deals in Africa and Latin America. He explored buying an Antonov AN-26 turboprop in Venezuela as well. Kinahan sought to buy the DHC-5 Buffalos, renowned for their short takeoff and landing capabilities while posing as a humanitarian aviation consultant. He did so with the assistance of a woman who sources say is his long-term partner, and a group of associates using companies in Dubai, Singapore, and Malawi.
|A copy of Christopher Kinahan’s passport was among the files leaked to ICIJ.
Kinahan, who according to the U.S. Treasury Department is based in Dubai, has presented himself on websites and social media sites, including LinkedIn, as an aviation and business consultant called Christopher Vincent. Kinahan, whose middle name is Vincent, has used multiple business names that include the initials CV, such as CVK Investments, and a Twitter handle, @CVBizbroker.
|In April 2022, the US announced sanctions and rewards for up to $15 million for Kinahan Sr. and his sons; harming the deals he had in the works.|
Interpol says Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique, and other African countries are used as transit countries by international drug smuggling criminals. Sources detailed Kinahan’s attempt to establish a hideout in Zimbabwe in recent years, at the same time as he was attempting to pull off a string of aviation deals. His connections to Zimbabwe are being reported here for the first time.
The leaked correspondence reveals how Kinahan oversaw the Egypt project while operating under his assumed name, Christopher Vincent. Taken together, the images and documents show the crime boss building international relationships with established humanitarian aviation partners as a cover for potential illicit activities.
The attempted purchase of planes from the Egyptian air force was one of several Kinahan efforts to buy old military aircraft in Africa. Sources said that Kinahan had various plans for the planes: to refurbish some to use in relief and tourism flights; to resell some whole or as parts, and to keep others.
At the time of the attempted Egyptian aircraft purchase, Kinahan faced passport fraud charges in Spain, where he was accused of using fake British and Irish travel documents. His name appeared frequently in news articles about a wide array of his alleged crimes.
Adam Wood is tied to several companies that Kinahan used to try to facilitate aircraft purchases and other deals. Along with Sea Dream, those companies are Dubai-based CV Aviation Consulting Services DWC-LLC, Singapore-based Crescents and Crosses PTE Ltd., and Nyasa Air Charters Ltd.Adam Wood, left, and Christopher Kinahan Sr attending a conference in Egypt’s Sharm El Sheikh resort in 2019.
|John Nammock, a former mercenary that avoided execution in Angola is part of the network of air companies tied to the Egyptian deal.|
Crescents and Crosses Company
PIJ was first approached with new Kinahan documents after the Malawi news organization reported on the Kinahans’ link to Nyasa Air Charters Ltd., a tiny Malawi airline that was involved in humanitarian work and was registered in 2018. Malawi Transport Minister Jacob Hara told PIJ that he pledged to investigate the findings of the links between Nyasa Air Charters and the Kinahan gang.
Emails show Kinahan pushing for the formation of Crescents and Crosses in Singapore so that it could negotiate the Egyptian deal under the pretense that Crescents and Crosses owned Nyasa and thus had a strong profile in Africa. Kinahan also pressed for Wood to run daily operations and for Sea Dream’s managing director, Ibrahim Eldesouky, to control “the financial dealings” on the Egypt project.
In late 2019, Kinahan explained in an email that he wanted the Crescents and Crosses website to “create a smoke and mirrors illusion that we are bigger and better than a mere startup company,” so that Crescents and Crosses would be “in pole position for aircraft finance and or leasing facilities.” Crescents and Crosses were to be the holding company for the deal. Nyasa, which is understood to have had only one aircraft at the time, was to use the Egyptian aircraft.
|Kinahan and Wood were photographed grinning at a 2019 aviation conference at the Red Sea resort city of Sharm El Sheikh.|
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.
In the photo, Kinahan and Wood sport conference lanyards around their necks. The conference was attended by people who deliver air services to charitable and disaster relief programs. Kinahan’s attendance shows that he was establishing his credentials as an air emergency service operator in the months before Wood and he sought to buy planes from the Cairo government.
Kinahan and Wood attended the conference on Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula with a colorful Irish-born, London-based security expert by the name of John Nammock. Curiously, Nammock, first came to public attention when he was convicted alongside 12 other mercenaries in Angola in 1976 of crimes against peace and Angola. He narrowly avoided execution.
Kinahan worked with Nammock, El Desouky, James Whittington Landon, and a Zimbabwean who carries a Belgian passport called Charles Robert Demblon worked together on the Egypt deal. Kinahan also tasked him to act as a security chief for one of his companies and use Nammock’s connections to U.N. 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.
The 2020 deal to purchase the 9 obsolete Egyptian Air Force DHC-Buffalos, eventually collapsed but shows 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 with the Kinahans also explored establishing an industrial cannabis business in Malawi before discarding the idea, according to the information reviewed.
Wood was named in correspondence between Sea Dream Middle East Trading and the Egyptian Air Force about the possible purchase of the aircraft and later went to inspect them. In 2003, in his mid-20s, Daniel Kinahan was registered as a 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. And in 2020, Sea Dream’s managing director Ibrahim El Desouky corresponded with the Egyptian defense attaché in Abu Dhabi, Hisham Nabil Monir, in a bid to buy up to nine DHC Buffalo military transport planes for up to $8 million.
An official document, written in Arabic and provided to PIJ and ICIJ along with screenshots of text messages, shows the Egyptian Government offered up to 30 planes for sale at first. Between Jan 2020 t0 Sept 2021, El Desouky and the Egyptians continued to discuss how many planes are on offer, for how much, and the arrangements for a visit to inspect the aircraft at Almaza Air Force Base, in northeastern Cairo.
In February 2020, Defense Attaché Monir sent Sea Dream a list of aircraft for sale, along with spare parts and equipment. The following month, the attache sent Sea Dream technical information related to the Buffalo and gave “the Egyptian Air Force’s approval” for a field inspection. to take place between March 10th and 15th. The team visited Egypt at least twice, the documents show in Dec. 2020 and 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 is received and requested copies of the passports of Sea Dream’s “technical inspection team.” By December 2020, Kinahan and his associates are confident that a deal for the purchase of nine Buffaloes will go through, and they say they’re transferring millions of dollars to cover it. “I will wait for the $10 million to be transferred to the company account,” But El Desouky hints at trouble finalizing the deal in another message, where he states that the “90%” down payment has been modified to a “not appropriate”
Screenshots from a WhatsApp conversation dated Sept. 2021 showed Kinahan notifying his team: “the buffalo deal is now officially closed.” A copy of a letter that would be sent to the Egyptian defense ministry listing a number of technical problems in the aircraft to justify the deal’s cancellation.
Information we have reviewed shows that Kinahan failed to raise money to pay for the aircraft, Egyptians became impatient, and el-Desouky’s family in Egypt became at risk. Kinahan assured El Desouky and called him: “Little brother.”
Wood used Nyasa Air charters to back off the deal when it became apparent that the Kinahans could not raise the funds to go through with the 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.
Consequently, the added expense has rendered the whole project untenable at the price that has been set by the Egyptian military after more than eighteen months of negotiations,” wrote Wood. Malawi’s Transport Minister Jacob Hara pledged to investigate the findings of the links between Nyasa Air Charters and the Kinahan gang.
But after the Egypt deal fell through, he largely lost his grip on the tiny airline, and then the entire project was dealt a knock-out blow by the U.S. sanctions which put pressure on Dubai, Kinahan’s base, to freeze his assets.
James Landon, identified in official Malawi documents as the owner of Nyasa Air’s assets, lives in Zimbabwe. Emails show that Landon was named as part of the team to visit Egypt, advised Kinahan on setting up companies, arranged deals with investment companies for the resale of aircraft, and weighed in on website design. By late December 2020, gauging from one exchange, the relationship between the two was tense, with Kinahan warning Landon: “Please don’t mess around with me, Jaime. I have always been open and direct.” Kinahan signed off: “Slightly aggrieved and irritated.”
After distributing heroin and cocaine in his native Ireland in the 1990s, Christopher Kinahan Sr. and his sons, Daniel and Christopher Jr., expanded their organization to Great Britain and mainland Europe. They have been linked to at least 20 murders in Europe, according to Europol, the European Union’s police agency.
The gang set up hundreds of companies, many reputedly in the hospitality and real estate industries, to hide and move huge quantities of cash from selling drugs. Authorities in Europe and the U.S. have compared the gang to Naples’ Camorra and Japan’s Yakuza.
U.S. authorities issued wanted posters for members of the Kinahan family. Dubai, a tax and secrecy haven in the Middle East, was home to several Kinahan cartel companies, the previous reporting by ICIJ and The Irish Times shows.
The Dubai companies were involved in boxing and nominally in the food, textiles, and aviation sectors, but authorities said these businesses were most likely used for money laundering and to move drugs. The United Arab Emirates, which includes Dubai, said it had frozen Kinahan assets this year. Daniel and Christopher Kinahan Jr. are both named in incorporation documents for Dubai companies.
By contrast, their father’s name does not appear as a founder, director, or shareholder of any of the companies that he can be seen, in correspondence shared with ICIJ, to effectively control. The documents show that he disguised that control through intermediaries named on company documents.
Zimbabwean Exit Plan
Kinahan also sought to establish a home and a business hub in Zimbabwe, but he was forced to abandon his plans after being denied permanent residency. The Irish police, or Gardaí, confirmed to ICIJ partner The Irish Times that Kinahan had attempted to move to Zimbabwe and had established at least one business, in construction, there. Gardaí said that Kinahan had begun working on his Zimbabwe exit plan about five years ago and that they believe he last flew to Zimbabwe in March/April shortly before the U.S. imposed sanctions on him on April 12.
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 center for investigative journalism.