The opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has raised eyebrows over a mysterious aircraft that landed at Chileka International Airport in the early hours of Saturday and is demanding answers as to why the plane landed at an odd hour as well as what it carried.
According to Immigration’s general declaration for light aircraft, which we have seen, the plane, registration ZS-CAG, landed at Chileka on March 15 2014 from Nigeria’s Pointe Noire Airport. It is operated by South African United Charter Services.
The documents show Riccardo Talevi as pilot with Athas Karatzas as his co-pilot, both South Africans. The aircraft is logged to have exited Chileka on Sunday, a day after its arrival.
While the declaration form does not indicate offloads from the plane, the document says the aircraft carried one passenger, a Mr. Ahmed Kassam, a 55-year-old Briton travelling on passport number 503403843 which expires on August 20 2023.
The purpose of Kassam’s visit to Malawi remains unknown but some members of the opposition were tipped off on the arrival of the plane and they camped at the airport from 7 pm on March 14th up until ZS-CAG landed.
DPP field and director of operations Ben Phiri yesterday claimed his party recorded the plane to have landed at exactly 1.45 am and was met by officials from the State House.
Phiri claimed two vehicles, a Toyota VX registration BK 9504, allegedly belonging to State House chief of staff Ben Mbewe, and a minibus whose registration number he did not record, were on the ground.
“The vehicles arrived at 12.30 pm through the VIP lounge to meet the plane. Seven boxes were offloaded from the aircraft and we trailed the vehicles up to Ryalls Hotel where the visitors were put up. We also trailed the vehicles carrying the boxes up to the Sanjika Palace gates where we believed the boxes are being kept,” he said.
Phiri, who argued he was suspecting a vote-rigging consultation, also wondered how this particular plane was permitted to land at Chileka, the very airport which government announced a few hours later on Sunday to have closed for flights for two weeks because of potholes.
But in an interview after a press briefing by the Civil Aviation Department on the closure of the airport yesterday, acting airport commandant Bosco Ng’oma said they allowed the plane to land because they learnt that it had had a long flight.
Mbewe yesterday confirmed that his vehicle, a driver and security picked up guests for the President, but said he did not have details of their visit.
“I have heard about me meeting the visitors, but it is not true [that there is anything fishy]. We made arrangements to meet the visitors upon being requested to do so as we normally do that. My vehicle being used is nothing new. These people had an appointment with President Joyce Banda and flew out after the meeting.” said Mbewe.
He said the visitor’s appointment and meeting with the President were all normal.
Presidential adviser on politics and communication Wakuda Kamanga said he had no information about any plane landing at Chileka or any appointment with the President and needed time to inquire.
Spokesperson for the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) Sangwani Mwafulirwa said DPP should take their concerns straight to the commission instead of going through the media.
President of the United Democratic Front (UDF) Atupele Muluzi said there are plenty of rumours about alleged attempts by the ruling People’s Party (PP) to rig the forthcoming elections.
Argued Muluzi: “It is not going to work. We are not sleeping in opposition and we know what is happening. We do not know what the aircraft was carrying…We are monitoring closely.”