Kenya Airways to resume DRC flights after detained staff freed

Kenya Airways plane

A Kenya Airways plane.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Kenya Airways (KQ) will resume Nairobi-Kinshasa flights on Wednesday after the military officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) unconditionally released two of its employees who had been detained in late April for allegedly transporting cargo without customs clearance.

KQ Group Chief Executive Allan Kilavuka said the staffers were released on Monday, adding that they were innocent and had been simply carrying out their duties in strict adherence to the laid down procedures.

“With the necessary ground support in place, we are pleased to announce that Kenya Airways will resume flights to Kinshasa on 8 May 2024. We look forward to serving our valued customers once again,” said Mr Kilavuka in a statement Tuesday.

“We want to reiterate that our employees are innocent and were only carrying out their duties in strict adherence to the laid-out procedures. We stand by their innocence and will continue to support them," he said.

The two employees, one a Kenyan and the other a Congolese national, were arrested and detained on April 19, 2024, by military officials in DRC over alleged attempts to ship valuable cargo out of the country on a KQ flight, without fulfilling customs procedures.

Sources told The EastAfrican that the cargo in question was a consignment of currency notes worth $8 million. It all started unravelling when a well-known courier service provider declined to transport cargo from a Congolese bank in early April, sources said.

From then, the bank, TMB, reached out to KQ to directly ferry the money to Nairobi and then on to a farther destination. But, by then, the military intelligence in Kinshasa had got wind of the cargo. It turned out that an informant in Nairobi had alerted Congolese authorities, claiming that the money was meant to fund opposition and rebel activities.

Both the airline and the bank have refuted the claims.

KQ said it had not even accepted the money while TMB says the cargo in question was banknotes being returned to the source because they were no longer suitable for circulation.

Kenya Airways said they had declined the cargo because it did not have adequate customs details. CEO Kilavuka said military men in Kinshasa took the two employees to the military side of the air wing to record statements, and they were held incommunicado until April 23, when the embassy officials and a KQ team were allowed to visit them.

The two were detained despite a court order asking for their release, which prompted the airline to suspend its flights, saying the detention of the employees had made it difficult for the airline to support the flights.

The carrier operates operates daily flights on the route. Its one of the traditional routes that KQ has been operating in Africa.

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