SA aircraft detained in Malawi amid rigging allegations
The aircraft with registration ZS-SDS has been detained by Malawian authorities since last week. Photo: Supplied.
LILONGWE - A South African-registered King Air twin-turbo aircraft has been detained at the Kamuzu International Airport in the Malawian capital, Lilongwe, amid allegations of a conspiracy to rig the elections taking place on Tuesday.
The aircraft was hired by Saulos Chilima, Malawi's vice president and contender in the elections on May 21.
Chilima is representing the United Transformation Movement (UTM), a political party formed after he fell out of grace with incumbent President Peter Mutharika.
The plane with registration ZS-SDS is apparently registered to a private owner but two South African companies have been named in the initial police report - Fair Aviation and ExecuJet, based at Lanseria International Airport.
The plane arrived in the country on Thursday from South Africa. On Friday it reportedly flew to Likoma Island and then connected to the northern city of Mzuzu for Chilima's penultimate campaign rally before returning to Malawi's capital.
Likoma is an Island district in the northern waters of Lake Malawi.
As the plane was due to depart for Johannesburg on Saturday morning, police and civil aviation authorities reportedly denied it clearance for take-off.
At this stage it is not yet known whether any formal charges have been laid, and it remains unclear whether the two-member crew or any locals will be charged.
The two pilots have since been booked in at a local hotel. Malawian law enforcement and civil aviation authorities remain non-committal about the release of the plane and aircrew.
On Sunday the Malawian Police Service released a statement confirming that the aircraft had been detained, citing 'suspicious activities' of passengers and crew members. Photo: Malawian Police Service
Conspiracy to rig elections
In an apparent reference to the impounded plane, President Peter Mutharika told a rally in Malawi's commercial capital Blantyre on Saturday that he was aware of some politicians plotting to rig the elections.
"I know who was in the plane and what was in the plane. I will not tolerate any malpractice during the elections," Mutharika said in a political speech broadcast on Malawian state broadcaster, MBC TV.
Lawyers, company representatives and Malawian police authorities have declined to comment on the matter at this point.
It is understood that the South African High Commission in Lilongwe is monitoring the situation and liaising with role players in Pretoria.
The Malawian President has, for some time, made allegations that his vice is plotting to steal the vote - allegations downplayed by Chilima.
There are seven other candidates in the elections, including MCP's Lazarus Chakwera and Atupele Muluzi of the UDF. None of these candidates, however, have faced similar accusations of plotting or rigging.
At the height of the rigging allegations some two months ago, the state security apparatus issued a red flag alert for travelers from Nigeria, India and Russia, urging police and immigration officers to exercise restraint when handling visa applications for citizens from these countries ahead of the elections.
Indian national, Dr Gutara Charan, was recently arrested and deported in connection with vote rigging allegations.
ExecuJet is part of the Luxaviation Group, the second largest corporate aircraft operator in the world. Luxaviation manages more than 270 aircraft and currently employs more than 1 700 employees worldwide, according to their official website.