Israel’s ambassador to Zambia has denied claims by a political opponent of Zambia’s President Edgar Lungu that Lungu’s presidential jet was used to smuggle money and drugs on the president’s return trip from a state visit to Israel in 2017.
Ambassador Gershon Kedar said he “vigorously” denied the “malicious and false allegations” in a statement to the press Wednesday cited by Zambian media.
In a speech Monday, National Democratic Congress leader Chishimba Kambwili, an opponent of Lungu who was fired from his government in 2016 and expelled from the ruling Patriotic Front party in 2018, claimed there were rumors of money smuggling from Israel, while admitting that he had “no facts” to back up the allegation.
“There is even an allegation that there was money that came from Israel on the presidential jet, I have no facts but there is an allegation trunks of money came from Israel on that presidential jet,” he said, according to The Mast news site.
Kambwili’s charges included claims that businessman Valden Findlay, who joins the presidential entourage on trips abroad, was a drug dealer wanted in the United States, and had also used the presidential plane to smuggle drugs — a claim that drew a defamation lawsuit from Findlay, according to the Lusaka Times.
“There are allegations by the people of Zambia and world over that maybe the presidential trips and plane is now being used to courier drugs,” Kambwili said.
The claims sparked a political firestorm in the country, with police opening an inquiry into defamation of the president.
Israel’s envoy, meanwhile, was keen to distance the Jewish state from the fracas, praising the nations’ bilateral relations and insisting Israeli business ties with the African nation were subject to Israeli anti-corruption laws.
“The relations between Israel and Zambia are positive and multifaceted and are all conducted according to the laws and regulations of both countries,” Kedar wrote in his press statement.
He noted Israeli companies were active in “agriculture, water, information technology, health, communications, defense, all of which are subject to Israeli laws prohibiting corruption (as per Israel’s membership of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) and stringent procedures regarding international financial transactions.”
He added that “government to government cooperation flourishes specifically in the field of agriculture and health and today Memorandum of Understanding for cooperation is being signed between the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and the Ministry of Tourism and Arts of Zambia.”
Lungu’s visit to Israel in February 2017, accompanied by top cabinet ministers, was characterized by both governments as a bid to jumpstart long-dormant ties.