Dikembe Mutombo, Georgetown Hall of Fame member, a former commencement speaker and all-time blocks leader here at Big Man U, has been implicated in a gold scam, according to the Houston Chronicle. Citing a United Nations report, the Chronicle says that less than two weeks after meeting with State Department officials about the vicious trade in conflict minerals from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mutombo was hawking 1,045 pounds of gold from the mines of the eastern Congo to a Houston oil baron at a meeting in New York for the low, low price of $10 million.
Kase Lawal, chairman of the energy company CAMAC, went on to lose around $30 million in the deal, according to the newspaper. Much of the details of the story remain unclear, from the identity of the gold’s truthful owner to the Congolese government’s level of involvement in the scam. Both Mutombo and Lawal declined to comment on the story.
Most of the Chronicle‘s story is based on the saved emails and text messages of Carlos St. Mary, a former African diamond trader who was supposedly employed by the oil executive to act as a middleman. St. Mary says that Mutombo initially claimed the gold belonged to him and “his people.” According to the terms of the agreement, the profit from the sale of the gold for $10 million would be split three ways- 40 percent to Lawal, 30 percent to Mutombo, and 30 percent to St. Mary.
Months later however, St. Mary was dealing with another shady character who first claimed to be the real owner of the gold, then disappeared with $4 million of Lawal’s money, and finally demanded that the deal take place in the heart of the conflict zone of the Congo. At this point, Mutombo was still pressing Lawal and St. Mary to go through with the deal.
Before sending his own brother and St. Mary to the Congo on a CAMAC corporate jet, Lawal lowered Mutombo’s share in the deal to ten percent because of the expenses he had incurred. St. Mary says this angered Mutombo. When the CAMAC plane landed a few days later, all hell broke loose.
Congolese officials arrested St. Mary and several CAMAC officials on charges of smuggling and money laundering, confiscated the 1,045 pounds of gold and commandeered $6.6 million in cash that was on board the plane. Recovering his employees and his plane increased Lawal’s total losses in the scam to roughly $30 million, according to St. Mary.
Mutombo’s nephew Reagan Mutombo was the only passenger who managed to avoid arrest at the airport. St. Mary noted that Mutombo was meeting with Congolese officials in Kinshasa at the same time that the gold sale was collapsing in the eastern part of the country.
Again, this entire story is based on the Chronicle‘s reading of a UN report and the account of St. Mary. This alleged darker side of Mutombo contradicts the image that many people have of him. For example, two years ago this week, President Barack Obama honored Mutombo’s humanitarian spirit at Georgetown University’s eighth annual “Let Freedom Ring!” event at the Kennedy Center in honor of the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. The Mutombo presented in the article on the other hand comes off as mysteriously, and coldly, calculating.
One of the only things we know for sure is that we don’t know exactly what happened, a fact that enables St. Mary’s wonderings to fill the void:
St. Mary said Mutombo, a Congolese hero so praised for his work on behalf of humanitarian causes in his homeland, was meeting with President Joseph Kabila in Kinshasa, ostensibly to discuss politics, at the moment the deal blew up. Because of the timing, St. Mary cannot help but wonder whether top government officials had been informed of the gold deal — or perhaps knew about it all along — or whether CAMAC’s jet and Lawal’s representatives were lured to Congo by design.