Mutombo caught up in African gold scam
NBA legend Dikembe Mutombo fell into a gold-smuggling trap that saw millions of dollars handed over to a notorious Democratic Republic of Congo warlord, UN investigators said Sunday.
Mutombo, who saw out a glittering 18-year playing career with the Houston Rockets, made a name for himself after his retirement in 2009 campaigning for good causes in his native D.R. Congo. He was mentioned in President George W. Bush's state of the union speech in 2007.
But the 45-year-old former eight-time All-Star was just the latest of many gullible individuals to be tempted by the promise of riches dealing in the country's gold and other treasure trove of minerals.
The Mutombo case involves bags containing millions of dollars in cash, sacks of gold of dubious origin and intermediaries with false identities across East Africa.
According to a report by UN sanctions committee experts, all were seized at an airfield in D.R. Congo. The money ended up with Bosco Ntaganda, a militia leader wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court, and the gold in government vaults.
Fred Robarts, coordinator of the UN Security Council's sanctions committee experts for the country, said, "Our understanding was that Dikembe Mutombo's role was as an intermediary. We don't suggest that he was part of some criminal gang. He thought that there was money to be made out of this deal and tried to set it up with a buyer to make a share of the profit; in that, he was probably naive."
Mutombo and relatives from D.R. Congo organized a meeting at a New York hotel in December 2010, in which he proposed the sale of 475 kilograms (1,045 pounds) of gold to businessmen Kase Lawal and Carlos St. Mary, according to a report by the sanctions experts.
Lawal is the Nigerian-American head of a Houston oil company, CAMAC. St. Mary heads a diamond-trading company. Lawal agreed to finance the deal and share the estimated $10 million profit with St. Mary and Mutombo.
The gold was to be extracted in D.R. Congo and handed over in Nairobi. The sanctions committee said an initial $4.8 million was handed over to one intermediary who "disappeared."
Ntaganda presented himself as the owner of the gold when a handover was organized in February 2011 at Goma, in eastern D.R. Congo, where militias are in a murderous battle for control of the mineral wealth.
Twenty-five metal cases of gold were loaded onto a plane chartered by Lawal -- but before it could take off, the oil mogul's representatives and St. Mary were arrested by intelligence agents for money laundering and illegally transporting the gold.
St. Mary said Lawal told him later "that he had lost a total of $30 million as a result of the whole ordeal, including transport fees, fines, bribes and payments made on the gold purchase."
Neither Lawal nor Mutombo would speak to UN investigators. Neither has spoken to media about the deal.