U.N. report: All that glitters is not gold

January, 24, 2012
01/24/12
5:12
PM ET
The wannabe smugglers brought a PowerPoint.

That may be the most startling detail in a story full of them about future NBA Hall of Famer and humanitarian Dikembe Mutombo.

While Mutombo was asking the U.S. Department of State to help him stop the illegal export of "conflict minerals" from his native Congo in late 2010, he also was allegedly giving a secret PowerPoint presentation to a Houston oilman to show how easy it would be to smuggle $10 million in gold from the country.

The story is spelled out in this report from the United Nations, which was first reported by the Houston Chronicle last week.

It's a 400-page report that, along with alleging cynicism and greed, describes how armed militias are looting the struggling country. But there's nothing quite as cynical and greedy as the scene that U.N. investigators paint of Mutombo trying to interest the oilman in the scheme.

The PowerPoint slides were made by Mutombo's nephews, David and Stephan Kapuadi, for a Houston oilman of Nigerian descent named Kase Lawal. According to the U.N. report, they wanted to convince Lawal to use his company's offices in Nigeria to finance the gold purchase in exchange for a third of the profits.

One of the slides is illustrated with a stack of gold bars and notes, "Using the highest discretion and confidentiality is a priority."

Lawal saw the presentation at a New York hotel on Dec. 3, 2010 that was attended by Mutombo, the Kapuadi brothers, and a third nephew, Reagan Mutombo. The report claims they had 1,045 pounds of gold ready to smuggled out of the country. Also at the table was the owner of a diamond trading company, Carlos St. Mary, who subsequently confirmed many of the details to the U.N.

The meeting ended with Lawal agreeing to finance the operation, the report states.

What followed, according to the report, was an almost Keystone Kops series of events involving a crooked general, mysterious manifests and enough material for three "Hangover" screenplays.

An example: "Subsequently, in Nigeria, on instructions from Kase Lawal … [his brother] prepared two separate bags containing the remaining amount of currency and joined St. Mary and [a] security agent … on a leased Gulfstream jet for a flight from Abuja to Goma on 3 February. The Nigerian Government provided the Group with passenger manifests confirming this flight. 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."

[+] Enlarge
Mutombo cash image
Courtesy of United NationsMore than $3 million in cash was seized as evidence.

That last character is Gen. Bosco Ntaganda, an accused warlord known as "The Terminator."

We could go through the whole crazy story for you, but why ruin the fun? All you need to know is that it ends with the general and his chief intelligence officer counting a suitcase full of $3.1 million in U.S. bills, a fire truck being driven in front of Lawal's jet to stop it from taking off, and all of the passengers inside being taken into custody for illegal possession of minerals.

Gen. Ntaganda was apparently shocked -- shocked! -- to find gold smuggling going on in his country.

You might feel bad for Mutombo, who has declined to answer questions about the episode, if the other 388 pages of the report didn't show the tragic cost that schemes like this are wreaking on the country.


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• Senior writer for ESPN The Magazine
• Author of "Wide Open: Days and Nights on the NASCAR Tour"; the New York Times best-selling "Sex, Lies and Headlocks"; and "Steroid Nation"

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