International drug trafficker and gang leader, Christy Kinahan snr, was involved in a plan to buy nine used aeroplanes for $8 million (€7.8 million) from the Egyptian military in 2020.
At the time, Kinahan was setting up websites and front companies where he was presenting himself as a legitimate businessman involved in the aviation sector.
Calling himself Christopher Vincent – Vincent is his middle name – Kinahan presented himself as having a particular interest in the provision of aviation services to humanitarian aid organisations working in sub-Saharan Africa.
Information and material about Kinahan’s African activities have been shared with The Irish Times, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and the Malawi-based Platform for Investigative Journalism (PIJ).
The material includes photographs of 65-year-old Kinahan attending the eleventh annual Global Humanitarian Aviation Conference in Egypt in October 2019, an event sponsored by the World Food Programme.
The event, in Sharm El-Sheikh, was attended by people who deliver air services to charitable and disaster-relief groups including the Red Cross and Medicins San Frontieres. It was attended by Kinahan at a time when he was involved in a plan to invest in a tiny air-ambulance service in Malawi called Nyasa Air Charters, which had no knowledge of his background.
The drugs trafficker wanted to buy nine de Havilland Canada DHC-5 Buffalo turboprop aircraft, transport planes that are renowned for their ability to land and take off on short runways and on rough terrain. Nyasa, the Malawi airline that was to use the aircraft, is understood to have had only one aircraft at the time.
As part of his plan to invest in the Malawi airline, Kinahan used companies in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and set up a proposed holding company in Singapore.
Dispute over money
Five months after Kinahan attended the conference in Sharm El-Sheikh, a Dubai company associated with him called Sea Dream Middle East General Trading LLC, corresponded with the defence attache in the Egyptian embassy in Abu Dhabi, also in the UAE, about the purchase of the Buffalo aircraft from the Egyptian military.
The Egyptian diplomat was supplied with the names and passport numbers of three people who would travel to an Egyptian air force base to inspect the aircraft on behalf of Sea Dream. One of these men, a citizen of Zimbabwe, had attended the Sharm El-Sheikh conference with Kinahan and was pictured sharing drinks with him while both men monitored their mobile phones.
It was only when Kinahan’s passport was produced that it became clear that Vincent was a middle name and that the man was really Christopher Vincent Kinahan
It is understood the proposed deals in relation to the purchase of the Egyptian aircraft and the investment in the Malawi airline fell through and that some of the parties involved subsequently got into a dispute over money. The dispute is ongoing and has led to some of those involved having concerns for their safety.
In email correspondence seen by The Irish Times, Kinahan shared with his prospective partners in the Nyasa operation his views about the benefits of working together as a team.
“Just as in metallurgy and physics, composite materials when woven together make the resulting fabric stronger, lighter, more efficient. I believe the same is true of business relationships,” he said.
It was only when Kinahan’s passport was produced that it became clear that Vincent was a middle name and that the man he was dealing with was Christopher Vincent Kinahan, the head of a notorious international trafficking organisation.
Kinahan explored the possibility of setting up home in Zimbabwe because he thought he might be more secure there than in Dubai. However, the crime boss did not go ahead with the move.
“They wanted to exit Dubai in case the authorities turned against them,” according to one source said. Kinahan wanted to “show a clean image in Zimbabwe”, just as his son, Daniel, had tried to portray himself as a legitimate businessman in the UAE involved in boxing and fight promotion.
The leaked material. as well as material posted online by Kinahan over recent years, show the crime boss making a concerted effort to set up an aviation network in Africa and provide himself with a new identity as a legitimate businessman.
This project was dealt a significant blow in April of this year when the US Department of the Treasury announced it was offering rewards of up to $5 million each for information leading to the arrest of Kinahan and each of his sons, Christopher jnr and Daniel, all of whom were said to have addresses in Dubai.
At the time, the US Office of Foreign Assets Control said the Kinahan cartel was being targeted in the same way as the Italian Camorra mafia group, the Yakuza mafia of Japan and the Russian Izmaylovskaya mafia. It announced that the Kinahans, some of their senior associates, and companies linked to their international crime group were being sanctioned.
The announcement put huge pressure on the Kinahan operation and made it more dangerous for Kinahan and his sons to engage in international travel. Soon afterwards, it emerged that the UAE was also imposing sanctions and freezing assets associated with the Kinahans.
At the time of their announcement, the US authorities said Kinahan’s sons were running the drugs trafficking business while their father was concentrating on overseeing the property portion of the enterprise. “For example, Christopher snr has registered a number of companies using aliases or using abbreviations of his name,” they said.
In the wake of the sanctions announcement, The Irish Times, working with the ICIJ, published a series of reports showing how the Kinahans had been setting up international trading companies in Dubai with the help of the authorities there. Many of the companies were nominally involved in international trading in food products, an activity that many global crime groups engage in to facilitate the movement of drugs.
While presenting himself online as businessman Christopher Vincent, Kinahan fronted a venture called Christopher Vincent Consulting and used multiple business names that included the initials CV such as Dubai-based CV Aviation Consulting Services DWC LLC, and CVK Investments.
Most of his nominally legitimate operations had their own websites and promoted their activities on platforms such as LinkedIn and Twitter. The websites shut down around the time the US authorities decided they would target the Irish crime group. Some of the material posted on the websites, however, can still be accessed via the internet archive service, the Wayback Machine.
‘Fingers on the pulse’
According to the news section of the now-closed website of a Singapore-based Kinahan company called Crescents and Crosses PTE Ltd, it attended the Sharm El Sheikh humanitarian aviation conference. “Crescents and Crosses (C&C) always have their fingers on the pulse and attended the event to network and create opportunities,” it said.
‘As long as poverty, injustice and inequality persist, none of us can truly rest,’ said the website’s home page
C&C, the website claimed, delivered cargo and logistics anywhere in Africa and the Middle East and, by way of affiliated companies in Malawi, worked with humanitarian and non-governmental charities. “As long as poverty, injustice and inequality persist, none of us can truly rest,” said the website’s home page.
Crescents and Crosses was incorporated in October 2019 and was set up as part of Kinahan’s strategy of presenting himself as a legitimate businessman with a presence in the African aviation sector. It is not clear if it ever traded.
Emails seen by The Irish Times includes correspondence where Kinahan outlined what he thought people who were going to be pictured on the C&C website should be wearing, and what their biographies should say.
The crime boss explained that he was paying so much attention to the detail of what was to go on the site because he wanted to “create an image, an impression of Crescents and Crosses as a big player (or at least potentially a big player) and thereby create a smoke and mirrors illusion that we are bigger and better than a mere start-up company”.
Among the advantages that might flow from this, he said, was landing contracts and securing aircraft financing or leasing facilities. The email correspondence shows him in contact with an aviation finance company in Miami, Florida, in relation to potential finance for a Pilates PC-12 single engine plane that he said would be chartered by Nyasa for “special missions, medivac, and corporate missions”.
The correspondence also shows Kinahan exploring the possible purchase of an old Soviet Union-manufactured Antonov An-26 turboprop transport plane that was in Venezuela and would need to be brought to Ukraine to be repaired
The emails are from “Christopher Vincent”, of CV Aviation Consultancy Services, on behalf of three clients Kinahan said intended to charter the Pilates to Nyasa. The Miami finance company declined to get involved.
The correspondence also shows Kinahan exploring the possible purchase of an old Soviet Union-manufactured Antonov An-26 turboprop transport plane that was in Venezuela and would need to be brought to Ukraine to be repaired, as well as used AgustaWestland twin-engined helicopters with price tags of between €6 million and €8 million.
The correspondence gives an impression of Kinahan as a busy and hands-on executive, deeply involved in the details of the ventures he is involved with, and anxious to move them forward. The emails fly back and forth between a range of parties, with numerous updates as to how various business matters are progressing. On one occasion, when obviously frustrated, the email correspondence adopts a vaguely menacing tone.
The emails include correspondence with a website design company in Malaga, Spain (where the Kinahans were based before their move to Dubai) used by Kinahan to operate the C&C website. In the correspondence, the website operator asked Kinahan for his approval of the news update about C&C’s attendance at the Sharm El-Sheikh conference before letting it go live on the C&C website.
“Yes. It seems fine to me. Thanks,” Kinahan responded. “By the way, I like the gallery effect in the updates.”
In a statement, the World Food Programme (WFP) said it did not invite Kinahan to the 2019 Sharm El-Sheikh conference but that a Christopher Vincent Kinahan had attended as a “walk-in”, using the name Chris Vincent and saying he was a consultant for an organisation called Crescents & Crosses.
“No known direct contact between WFP and Mr Kinahan occurred before or during the [conference] in 2019, nor has there been any since. WFP is not in a position to comment on any discussions Mr Kinahan may have conducted with other attendees,” the statement said.
– Additional reporting, ICIJ