Harare – Zimbabwean authorities have finally released a cargo plane carrying 67 tons of freshly printed cash notes running into billions of rand but failed to identify the corpse found in the aircraft.
The McDonnell-Douglas MD-11 trijet was impounded on February 14 during a refuelling stop after workers at Harare International Airport noticed blood dripping from the plane.
A fully clothed body of a black man was discovered in a compartment, but owing to advanced decomposition a forensic pathologist could not establish with certainty how and when the man died.
Police spokesperson Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba said the postmortem showed that the man died of “asphyxiation” – a lack of oxygen.
Ruling out foul play, police said the man had boarded the plane alive with no internal injuries. This intensifies the mystery – why would anyone in Munich, Germany, stow away on an Africa-bound plane?
A source close to the investigation said unfortunately the investigators could not retrieve fingerprints.
“The body was infested with maggots. It was impossible even to retrieve fingerprints,” said the reliable source.
The International Police Organisation (Interpol) has since issued a notice to police forces in Germany, Belgium, Uganda, Ivory Coast, and Nigeria to assist in establishing the identity and nationality of the suspected stowaway.
The aircraft, owned by United States-based Western Global Airlines, finally departed Harare for South Africa on Friday night.
The money, printed in Munich and destined for Durban, belongs to the SA Reserve Bank.
Dramatic details of the diplomatic manoeuvres which led to an amicable resolution of the stunning incident have emerged.
As soon as the aircraft saga began unfolding last Sunday, South African ambassador to Zimbabwe Vusi Mavimbela rushed to the airport but he did not make the swift breakthrough he initially expected.
The following day, the SA Reserve Bank issued a tersely worded statement saying the central bank was looking forward to receiving its precious consignment.
Panicked government officials in Pretoria offered to send South African defence force soldiers to guard the plane and its precious “diplomatic shipment” but the proposal was rejected by the Zimbabwean authorities, sources said.
Pretoria’s anxiety would have been justified, considering that a few days prior, the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation had reported on a smuggling syndicate involving soldiers, police, and immigration officers stationed at Harare airport.
Behind the scenes, a flurry of correspondence between Pretoria and Harare did not bring instant results as the Zimbabwean authorities insisted on a thorough investigation into what appeared to be a delicate homicide case of international magnitude.
Tensions went a notch up when Harare told Pretoria that the aircraft’s goods had to be scanned to ensure that the purported cargo was in fact cash and not something else. Thankfully, the investigators had concluded that there was no link between the cargo and the corpse.
At last, some progress – but Mavimbela’s headache was far from over.
“While the Zimbabwe security has said they have found no connection between the two, they must still scan the cargo to ensure that it is only what is on the schedule of the plane,” Zimbabwe foreign affairs secretary Joey Bimha told journalists earlier.
Scanning a large wide-body jet stuffed with 67 000kg of money was not going to be easy.
However, as the cargo question neared resolution, Pretoria’s point-man on the ground, Mavimbela, heaved a sigh of relief.
“At long last some positive movement. We have now set the processes afoot to get the people to come over to transport the equipment they use. So once they are here and we are able to offload the cargo, then the Zimbabwean authorities can do their bit,” Mavimbela said.
The big mystery remains unsolved – what is the identity of the dead man; why would anyone stow away on an Africa-bound aircraft in Germany; where did he come from; and how did he end up on the large cargo aircraft?