Guns, gold and $5m cash: Documents reveal owner of private jet seized in 'gold scam'

Last August, authorities in Zambia raided a private jet, which had landed at the African country’s largest airport after flying more than 3,000 miles from Cairo.

Acting on a tip, Zambia’s Drug Enforcement Commission (DEC) found $5.7m in cash, five pistols and 127kg of what appeared to be gold.

Zambian authorities later tested the pieces and discovered they were mostly made up of copper and zinc.

“This has been a clear case of scamming, gold scamming,” said DEC director Nason Banda at a news conference after the operation.

Zambian authorities seized the jet and detained 10 people on board, including six Egyptian nationals. For almost a year, however, the owner of the jet has remained a mystery.

Documents obtained by Sky News, in collaboration with the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), show that the plane is owned by prominent Egyptian businessman Ibrahim Al Organi.

In an affidavit filed to Zambia’s High Court in December, Al Organi identified himself as the owner of the aircraft.

Who is Al Organi?

The Egyptian businessman is chairman of the Organi Group, a sprawling network of companies in construction, real estate, travel, and security. In January 2023, Al Organi became an official sponsor of Al Ahly, the most successful football team in Africa.

Al Organi’s affidavit, submitted in a bid to regain possession of the aircraft, says he is the “sole director” of the company World Aviation Sinai International Mountain Limited, which is registered with the aviation authority in San Marino, a tiny landlocked country surrounded by Italy.

San Marino aviation registry documents confirm the firm owns the Global Express jet that was detained by Zambian authorities.

In the affidavit, Al Organi says neither he nor the plane’s management company, Ibis Air, had any connection with the Egyptians who chartered the flight from Cairo to Lusaka.

Al Organi did not respond to a further request for comment.

Recent developments

In April, Zambian authorities released the jet after reaching an agreement with Al Organi's company. Flight tracking data shows the plane flew from Lusaka to Johannesburg on 12 April.

The ownership of the plane and its links to Egypt have been subject to speculation since the raid almost one year ago.

According to the Associated Press, a journalist in Egypt was briefly detained in August after publishing the names of the Egyptians arrested on-board the plane.

Five of those Egyptians were subsequently charged with espionage, but these charges were dropped four days later. The sixth Egyptian, a flight attendant, was released without charge.

Five Zambians connected with the plot are currently standing trial in Lusaka on charges of espionage.

The Zambian Drug Enforcement Commission and Director of Public Prosecutions declined to comment, citing the ongoing legal cases.

The Data and Forensics team is a multi-skilled unit dedicated to providing transparent journalism from Sky News. We gather, analyse and visualise data to tell data-driven stories. We combine traditional reporting skills with advanced analysis of satellite images, social media and other open source information. Through multimedia storytelling we aim to better explain the world while also showing how our journalism is done.