U.N.: Houston oil tycoon, former NBA star team up in Congo gold deal involving North Texas jetBy crimeblog.dallasnews.com
1/13/2012 9:30:19 AM -
The United Nations has issued a report on last year's botched attempt to export millions of dollars in Congo gold using a North Texas Gulfstream jet.
The report, issued last month, concludes that Houston oil tycoon Kase Lawal, founder of the energy firm CAMAC and a member of one of President Barack Obama's trade commissions, partnered with former NBA star Dikembe Mutombo to finance the deal. (I've tried to reach Mutombo through the NBA and through his foundation, to no avail.)
According to the report, featured here in a Houston Chronicle story , Lawal and Mutombo tapped Lawal family friend Carlos St. Mary, a Houston diamond merchant, to pick up the gold shipment. Lawal supplied St. Mary with a Gulfstream jet owned by a firm run by Southlake businessman David Disiere to do the deal. Disiere's firm Southlake Aviation had the leased jet to a CAMAC subsidiary -- a North Texas connection to this story that we have written about several times (see here and here and here).
Disiere's spokesman has said, through it all, that Disiere had no involvement in the gold deal and had no control over where the lease holder, CAMAC, took the aircraft. The U.N. report does not dispute this. Southlake Aviation has sued CAMAC for allegedly violating the terms of the lease for using the plane in the doomed transaction, during which the jet was held in Africa for a month then released. (Here's the newest amended petition in that lawsuit, which now names Lawal and Mutombo.)
Through his attorneys, Lawal declined to cooperate in the U.N.'s investigation. "CAMAC takes offense to the U.N. implying that individuals associated with this organization have had any knowledge or complicity in illegal activities," attorney Lawrence Finder wrote to U.N. officials, who included the lawyer's letter in their report.
No U.S. criminal charges have been filed in the incident.
Congolese officials seized the aircraft last year on suspicion that the gold originated from mines located in areas under the control of rebel warlords. Warring factions who smuggle out shipments of the country's vast mineral wealth use the proceeds to maintain power and commit human rights atrocities such as mass rape, relief agencies have found.
Click below to read the portion of the U.N.'s report dealing with the case.
CAMAC case study
606. The Group has found that General Bosco Ntaganda has also collaborated with East African regional networks of dealers selling both real and counterfeit gold to international buyers. Ntaganda's participation in such deals has not dissuaded gold buyers hopeful of obtaining large profits from buying at low prices. The Group is concerned at these cases, both because of the lack of due diligence and because of the infringement of the sanctions regime prohibiting business activities with designated individuals.
607. The Group has investigated one particularly high-profile case in which Kase Lawal, Chair of the CAMAC Group, attempted to conduct a gold transaction that subsequently involved Ntaganda between December 2010 and February 2011. CAMAC is an oil company based in Houston, Texas, in the United States, with offices in Lagos and Abuja, Nigeria. Financing this deal with company funds, Lawal organized it in collaboration with Carlos St. Mary, director of the diamond trading company Axiom Trading, and Dikembe Mutombo of Mutombo International Group.
Events in New York
608. According to St. Mary and hotel records examined by the Group, Lawal convened a meeting to initiate the gold deal in New York on 2 December 2010. There, Mutombo and three relatives, Reagan Mutombo, Stephan Kapuadi and David Kapuadi proposed the sale of 475 kg of gold held in Nairobi (see annex 165). The profit to be gained from the deal was originally estimated at more than $10 million. Lawal agreed to finance the deal, with St. Mary conducting the business in Kenya and the two splitting profits with Mutombo, originally on a 40-30-30 basis. Text messages obtained by the Group demonstrate Lawal's understanding that the gold was to have originated from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (see annex 166). Throughout the process, Lawal made no inquiries regarding the exact origins of or conditions in which the gold had been extracted and transported from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Kenya.
Inspection of the gold in Nairobi and Goma
609. In Kenya, the alleged owner of the gold was presented by the Kapuadis as Eddy Michel Malonga (see para. 547 above and para. 618 below), with whom St. Mary visited a gold refinery in Karen, outside Nairobi, and was presented with a certificate of ownership in the name of CAMAC Nigerian Limited (see annex 167). After a return trip to Nigeria on the part of a CAMAC security agent, an initial payment of $4.8 million was made to Malonga on 17 December with CAMAC funds. However, when paperwork discrepancies and the false identities of alleged customs agents became apparent, Malonga disappeared, claiming to St. Mary that the first instalment was intended for a "General". Upon resurfacing, Malonga proposed that the transaction be completed in Goma.
610. On 19 January, St. Mary's Kenya-based lawyer, Punit Vudgama, and CAMAC employee Alexander Ehinmola were sent to Goma, where two army colonels accompanied them in a military vehicle to a FARDC-guarded safe house to view the metal boxes that supposedly contained the gold. After St. Mary thoroughly briefed him, describing the military involvement and the signatures of colonels on the new contract, Lawal agreed to proceed with the deal, apparently believing that it would be easier to obtain export documents from the country of origin in Goma. Furthermore, according to St. Mary, Lawal was reassured, rather than concerned, by the explicit involvement of the Congolese military, perceiving it to be a security guarantee.
611. Subsequently, in Nigeria, on instructions from Kase Lawal, the Vice-Chair of CAMAC Nigeria Limited, Mukaila "Mickey" Lawal, prepared two separate bags containing the remaining amount of currency and joined St. Mary and CAMAC security agent Franck M'Bemba on CAMAC's leased Gulfstream jet for a flight from Abuja to Goma on 3 February (see annex 168). The Nigerian Government provided the Group with passenger manifests confirming this flight (see annex 169). With Reagan Mutombo already in Goma to oversee Dikembe Mutombo's share in the deal, the passengers arrived and were brought to meet Ntaganda at Hotel Ihusi.
612. According to St. Mary, Ntaganda introduced himself as the true owner of the gold and promised to obtain all the necessary paperwork. St. Mary told the Group that both he and Mukaila Lawal had informed Kase Lawal about the General's ownership, providing his name. Nevertheless, Lawal was concerned only to the extent that this presented another twist in the already convoluted deal, but also appeared relieved to finally be engaging directly with the true owner of the gold. According to St. Mary, Lawal did not ask who the General was or suggest that St. Mary should pull out of the deal as a result of his involvement.
613. On 4 February, at his hotel, Kivu Light, Ntaganda instructed St. Mary to retrieve one of the bags of cash from the jet to cover documentation costs. After St. Mary did so, however, there was an armed stand-off between his armed escorts, led by Colonel Masozera, and multiple other security services, including the Republican Guard. According to a witness interviewed by the Group, a call from the presidency, made by the head of the Presidential Guard, led to an agreement that the bag should be brought to the Governor's house. However, Masozera took it directly to Ntaganda's residence and on to Kivu Light, where St. Mary witnessed Ntaganda and his chief intelligence officer, Colonel Nsengiyumva Wilson, counting $3.1 million in cash.
614. The following day, 5 February, St. Mary, Mukaila Lawal, M'Bemba and the flight crew were brought back to the airport, where, according to airport officials who were present, 25 metal boxes were loaded onto the jet. Immediately after Mukaila Lawal had provided the second bag to Masozera, Presidential Security Adviser Colonel Jean Claude Yav boarded the plane and accused St. Mary of illegal possession of minerals. A fire truck was driven in front of the jet. The passengers were subsequently taken for interrogation by intelligence services and eventually brought to the central bank to review the contents of the first bag that they had provided to Ntaganda.
615. According to St. Mary, the bag now contained $2.8 million in counterfeit bills. According to intelligence officers, Ntaganda handed over a second bag, containing $3 million in counterfeit bills, on 10 February. St. Mary shared with the Group photos of the original United States dollar bills from the first bag, which had been counted at Kivu Light (see annex 170); they did not resemble the counterfeit money, which Congolese authorities and St. Mary described as printed on yellow copy paper, with all bills having the same serial number.
616. On 14 March, the Attorney General's office in Kinshasa charged St. Mary, Mukaila Lawal and M'Bemba with money-laundering and illegal transport of a banned material, given the mining ban in effect at the time. Transferred to a house in Kinshasa after being detained for a month in a hotel in Goma, CAMAC's Kinshasa representative, Marie Elonga, officially paid $3 million in fines, and the three were finally released on 25 March. According to St. Mary, when he had travelled immediately to see Kase Lawal in London, Lawal had told him that he had lost a total of $30 million as a result of the whole ordeal, including transport fees, fines, bribes and the payments made on the gold purchase.
617. Following multiple official letters and telephone calls by the Group, CAMAC's lawyers responded in a letter dated 13 May 2011, stating that the individuals involved were "neither employed by or consultants to our organization" and that CAMAC "has already publicly addressed some of the issues raised in your letter and has no further interest in pursuing the matter" (see annex 171). However, on its website, CAMAC acknowledged the release of its corporate jet, which had been flown to the Democratic Republic of the Congo in breach of its lease with Southlake Aviation (see annex 172). Despite Reagan Mutombo's initial agreement to cooperate with the Group's investigations, he eventually refused to follow through, on the advice of his lawyers.
East African counterfeit gold networks
618. Behind Malonga, the Group has uncovered a wide-reaching network of gold swindlers throughout East Africa, some of whom have had close prior associations with Ntaganda. The Group has concluded that the Kapuadis and Malonga, a Cameroonian national, were working for another Cameroonian, named Yusuf Omar, whom Congolese intelligence has been investigating for more than a year. According to one of Omar's partners, prior to St. Mary's arrival at Goma, Omar sought out Ntaganda in order to ensure the security arrangements for the transaction, owing to the fact that CAMAC was concerned about coming to Goma. Omar travelled to Goma in December and stayed at Ntaganda's hotel, Kivu Light.
619. For his part, Ntaganda told the Group that he had been approached by a Nande businessman named "Bruce Kambale" (see para. 547 above), who had explained the deal and asked for protection in exchange for a percentage of the profits from the scam. The Group confirmed through other con artists in Kampala that Kambale worked closely with Omar.
620. Ntaganda also claimed to the Group that he had informed the head of Congolese Intelligence in Goma, Jean-Marc Banza, and FARDC Colonel Jean-Claude Yav about the deal prior to the arrival of the buyers in Goma. In separate interviews, Banza and Yav confirmed to the Group that they had learned of the CAMAC deal from Ntaganda shortly before the arrival of the Gulfstream jet in Goma. They told the Group that the Government had conducted investigations into those who had organized the CAMAC deal. In the course of those investigations, only one member of the network had actually been arrested.
621. According to the Criminal Investigation Department of the Kenya Police, the key individual behind most of the large gold scams in Nairobi is Paul Kobia (see para. 547 above), who was arrested in March 2011 on related charges. According to documents found by the Kenya Police through raids on Kobia's properties, Kobia had a large number of commissioners working throughout the region selling counterfeit gold, including Omar.
622. Photographs and descriptions presented by the Kenya Police of a refinery operated by Kobia's network match those provided by St. Mary (see annex 173). Furthermore, the description of the metal boxes in which the gold was held outside Goma matches the description of those that St. Mary viewed in Nairobi. The Kenya Police seized large numbers of this type of box in Kobia's homes (see annex 174).