LUSAKA (Reuters) - Zambia sought to deny bail to five Egyptians and six Zambians charged with espionage for entering a restricted zone of Lusaka airport, two weeks after Zambian authorities said their plane had been seized along with guns, bullets, cash and fake gold.
A magistrates court in the capital Lusaka charged the men on Monday, but on Tuesday magistrate Davies Chibwili deferred their application for bail until the following day after the defence rejected a prosecutor's certificate denying bail to them.
"The state must give reasons as to why accused persons whose liberties to freedom are being taken away must be denied bail," defence lawyer Martha Mushipe told the court.
The charge sheet did not mention the aircraft or seized goods, but lawyers for the defendants said in a statement that they were on a plane that Zambia's Drug Enforcement Agency searched on Aug. 13 at Lusaka's main airport.
The agency said it found about $5.7 million in cash, five pistols, 126 rounds of ammunition and 602 pieces of suspected gold weighing around 127 kilograms on the plane, which had arrived from Cairo.
However, Zambian Mines Minister Paul Kabuswe told journalists two days later that laboratory analysis of the seized metal bars showed that - despite their appearance -- they contained not gold but mainly copper and zinc.
That fuelled speculation in Zambian media that some of the suspects might have sought to swindle gold buyers in a fake bullion scam.
Two Egyptian security sources said the plane seized in Zambia had been inspected by authorities before leaving Cairo, but that bags with one of the arrested Egyptians were not searched, and this was currently under investigation.
Egypt's journalists syndicate said on Aug. 20 that security forces in Cairo had assaulted an Egyptian journalist who published a report on the Zambia-bound plane for online investigative platform Matsada2sh - Arabic for "Don't Believe It".
(Reporting by Chris Mfula; additional reporting by Cairo Newsroom; writing by Tim Cocks; editing by Mark Heinrich)