BY PIJ INVESTIGATIONS
Last April, as US investigators took unprecedented action against an Irish gang linked to international narcotics trafficking and numerous murders, a tiny Malawi airline unexpectedly flew into view before suddenly vanishing from the web.
Police in the Irish capital Dublin told reporters that they had evidence that tied Nyasa Charter Limited, a small airline registered without fanfare in Malawi in 2019, to the murderous Kinahan drug cartel.
Now an investigation by the Platform for Investigative Journalism (PIJ), a partner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists(ICIJ), uncovers Nyala Charter Limited’s apparent unconventional official connection.
Although licensed in Malawi, PIJ found Nyala Charter Limited has conducted an air ambulance service in Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
Senior officials in Malawi’s aviation department told PIJ that they did not know of the airline’s existence until PIJ requested information about its license and operations.
And PIJ discovered that a former senior official at the Civil Aviation Department was listed as a director of the airline on the company’s own website before the site was taken down abruptly when the Gang was put on the radar.
When questioned by PIJ, Alick Ntilatila, the official named by the company as a director denied ever having worked for it, raising more questions about the operations of the controversial airline.
Ntilatila, the former director of civil aviation, denied being part of the company board of directors but confirmed he participated in its registering as a public official.
“I was involved as a public officer in granting its license but I was never a member of its board or management,” he said.
Who is the Kinahan Gang?
International boxing promoter Daniel Kinahan has been named by police chiefs in Ireland, the UK, and Europe, and US Treasury officials, as the leader of the Kinahan cartel.
Europol says the Dubai-based Kinahan gang, which has been sanctioned by the U.S as narco-traffickers and has had its assets frozen in the UAE, is connected to violence across the continent, including many murders.
Along with his father, Christopher, and brother Christopher Jr, Daniel Kinahan is accused of running a “murderous” transnational drug and gun trafficking organization comparable to the Italian Mafia.
At the core of the cartel’s operations, according to an investigation funded by the European Union, are dozens of front companies that help move heroin, cocaine, and other drugs, and launder the proceeds from their sale.
The group followed the Mafia’s example, setting up food businesses to move drugs and launder dirty money and using real estate investments to hold illicit goods, an ICIJ investigation further revealed.
“Countering transnational organized crime is an urgent priority for President [Joe] Biden and the U.S. government,” recently said Claire Cronin, the U.S. ambassador to Ireland, at a news conference announcing rewards of up to $15 million for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Kinahan, his father, and his younger brother.
The gang that emerged in Dublin now has strong ties to Spain, Morocco, the Netherlands, Dubai, and Colombia. Russia, too. It has flooded Europe with narcotics, including heroin, ecstasy, marijuana from North Africa, and cocaine from South America.
Kinahan cartel gunmen, money men, dealers, and small-time money launderers have been arrested and jailed routinely by Irish authorities since the 1990s. The Irish Criminal Assets Bureau has seized from Kinahan gang members tens of millions of euros in cash, guns, silencers, luxury cars and watches, and large quantities of drugs.
But until now, little damage has been done to the cartel’s business outside of Ireland.
Eighteen people, including two innocent bystanders, have been killed in a feud between Kinahan gang members and the rival Irish Hutch gang — nearly all members or relatives and associates of the Hutch. Irish police, known as the Gardai, believe that most of the killings were carried out on the orders of the Kinahan cartel.
Enters Nyasa Air Charter Limited
Malawi has two known registered air operators, Malawi Airlines, the partly state-owned company, and Ulendo Airlink, a private operator. Nyasa Air Charter Limited, a hitherto largely unknown operator, is the third.
That the company could fall under the radar might be thanks to the fact that it mostly operates in Zimbabwe and Mozambique, officials told PIJ. Why it is registered in Malawi, in the first place, however, adds further intrigue to its operations.
And why would a private company name a public official involved in its regulation as its employee? mystery also surrounds the reason the company decided to take down its website at the time the US authorities sanctioned the Kinahan gang’s leadership.
When PIJ contacted the Director of Civil Aviation, James Chakwera, he could not immediately recall the company. He later acknowledged the company had made an application for a license but said he could not remember the details, including whether the license was granted or not.
He referred PIJ to other officials in the ministry who confirmed the airline is Malawi registered.
“They were given an air operator certificate in 2019. They did start. The operation is more of an air ambulance. The aircraft is registered. They should still be operating,” said Mike Manonga, air transport, and planning officer at the Department of Aviation.
The gang is linked to a company called SeaDream Middle East Trading which is linked to CVK Investments, a Dubai-based investment company, which publicly announced signing an MOU to invest in a joint venture with Nyasa Air Charter Limited to operate an air ambulance service.
According to the LinkedIn page, Nyasa Air Charter Limited is a Malawian company affiliated with Crescents and Crosses Pte Limited and works in conjunction with its sister company, Regional Medical Services Limited to provide aviation services throughout Africa and the Middle East.
“Nyasa Air Charters (NAC) Incorporated in 2014 to service the challenging infrastructure of Africa. NAC was primarily involved in operating STOL aircraft to the more remote and practically inaccessible landing strips in the region,” reads the company’s Linkedin profile.
It adds: ?” However, although NAC has evolved from those humble beginnings, we still pride ourselves on our ability to operate short and long field flights using Short Take Off and Landing (STOL) high-performance turboprop aircraft into prepared and unprepared airfields. Our pilots between them have thousands of hours of experience flying challenging operations in Chad, Central African Republic, DR Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Togo, Nigeria, Sao Tome, Equatorial Guinea, Afghanistan, and Iraq. We are more than capable of completing your mission, on time and ‘the sky is no limit!’”
Phone calls to a contact attributed to Crescents and Crosses Pte Limited did not go through on several attempts. On its Linkedin page, Crescents and Crosses Pte Limited also says it operates in the aviation sector providing logistics across the continent with its base in Malawi.
“We are a small but highly flexible and fluid outfit. We can deliver cargo and logistics anywhere in Africa and the Middle East. Our experienced, adaptable, and highly skilled pilots, medics, drivers, and maintenance personnel can seamlessly interface with the direction and requirements of Humanitarian Organizations, Charitable Organizations, and NGOs,” reads the profile.
It adds the company offers “solutions combining pre-planning and logistics routine, with an effective distribution mechanism, ensuring emergency delivery of goods in areas affected by natural or man-made disasters.”
It adds: “We are a company registered in Singapore with our forward (Africa) operations base in Malawi in Southern Africa. Here we operate through local companies such as Regional Medical Services Limited. Crescents & Crosses PTE Limited is an umbrella management company. Our team has in-depth experience in operating in Botswana, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Syria, Zimbabwe, Somalia, Iraq, South Africa, Mozambique, Zambia, Tanzania, and the DRC. Our charter and specialist services are available to Humanitarian Organizations, NGOs, and Multi-Nationals.”
Among board members of Crescents and Crosses PTE Limited is an Irish man called John James Nammock who was referred to, on its now taken down website, as Chief Security Officer. His profile identifies him as having previously served in the British army and “has a wealth of experience particularly in Africa, with more than 40 years including anti-piracy experience.”
But a New York Times story in 1976 identified him as being among a group of 13 American, British and Irish mercenaries who went on trial in Angola for conducting mercenary activities.
The 13 mercenaries were captured in northern Angola during the civil war in February while fighting for the Natidnal Front for the Liberation of Angola which received support from the United States, China, and Zaire, according to the report.
“The Irish national was identified as John James Nammock. 20, a former British soldier who is a resident of London,” reads the report.
Read more here: (ANGOLA PUTS OFF OPENING OF TRIAL – The New York Times (nytimes.com)
A former pilot for Nyasa Air Charter who spoke on condition of anonymity said the company has ceased operations.
“We were doing a medical evacuation for Covid patient during the covid lockdown,” says the pilot whose identity and nationality the PIJ has but will not publish.
The pilot was shocked to learn of the links between Nyasa Air Charter and the gang.
CVK investment is owned by Christy Kinahan Sr, a leading figure in the Kinahan gang. He is also renowned for being a one-time promoter for boxer Tyson Fury. On the run, he now has a 5, 000 000 US dollars bounty on his head for information leading to his arrest.
The Tweet by CK Investment announcing the partnership with Nyasa Air Links has since been deleted as Kinahan Snr was reportedly desperate to distance himself and his business and even put up his business domain, CK Investment, up for sale.
According to Irish law enforcement sources, while the Kinahan gang successfully set up a complex web of businesses to move and launder money, they mistakenly used one phone number which links them all.
“One by one, websites and accompanying social media platforms came down but many remained online including one linked to Christopher Vincent, which declared: Being in the game is not as important as staying ahead of it,” reported the Irish Sunday World.
Irish media named Seadream as one of the companies owned by the gang, citing police sources.
Adam Lincoln Wood, CEO of Sealand, who describes himself in Twitter Bio as “Entrepreneur by nature, aviation by tradition, engineer by vocation and COO of http://crescents-crosses.com,” and says “we have a vision and the sky’s NO limit,” rejected any suggestions the company has any links to Kinahan gang.